Colorado senators have approved a bill in committee to set up a regulatory framework for legal psychedelics under a voter-approved initiative.
The Senate Finance Committee passed the legislation from Senate President Steve Fenberg (D), with amendments, in a 5-2 vote on Thursday, sending it to the Appropriations Committee.
Overall, the bill seeks to set up regulations for a psychedelics legalization law that voters passed at the ballot last year, largely focusing on rules for using the substances in licensed healing centers under the guidance of facilitators. The proposal has received mixed feedback from advocates and stakeholders so far—including in hours of testimony at Thursday’s hearing.
The ballot measure called for the creation of an advisory board to develop regulatory recommendations to inform more holistic legislation covering such access, but as that process continues, the Senate president filed a separate bill this week to establish rules.
The legislation seeks to set policies on “healing centers” where adults 21 and older could receive psychedelic treatment, tighten up rules on cultivation and facilitators, establish licensing requirements, dictate state agency regulatory responsibilities and impose penalties for unsanctioned activities.
Members of the committee adopted two amendments during a hearing on Thursday. One is meant to clarify that various provisions of the bill, including a section to create an Indigenous working group, involve federally recognized American tribes.
The other amendment addresses a more substantive advocacy concern, striking language that initially prohibited people from receiving remunerations for performing a “bona fide religious, culturally traditional, or spiritual ceremony” involving psychedelics.
The lack of legal protections for remunerations in the bill as introduced was viewed by some as exclusionary, and potentially setting the state up to have a principally corporate psychedelics model where only those who receive facilitator licenses could financially benefit from the law.
Also, the amendment clarified that people can possess, grow and display living plants for “ornamental purposes,” which the sponsor said is a necessary revision to avoid people inadvertently being criminalized for having a “cactus in your window.”
There were a number of other technical changes made under the amendment.
“As it often happens, when a proposition is passed, we come here in January and we talk to the folks who are implementing the proposition and we realize that there are some things that need to happen through the legislative process to actually enact it,” Fenberg said.
“The north star of this 80-some page bill…has always been to implement the will of the voters, to respect what voters approved at the ballot box that is now in law, and to do it in a way that can be successful and safe and provide consumer protection and make sure that we are doing everything in the spirit of what Proposition 122 was aiming to do,” the senator continued.
Ahead of the public testimony on Thursday, Fenberg recognized that there are many “competing interests and viewpoints when it comes to this topic,” and that stakeholders are concerned about various provisions. He stressed that “we don’t want to go down a path where we are overly commercialized and are commodifying something that is very sacred and important for Indigenous cultures that others don’t understand and potentially could could have negative impacts on those communities.”
Here are some of the key components of the amended bill:
The bill would maintain the voter-approved ballot measure’s policy of placing no limits on personal possession of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn by adults 21 and older.
Public consumption of psychedelics and underage use would be punishable by a $100 fine.
Adults could only cultivate natural psychedelics, and that activity would need to be at a private residence in an enclosed space that could not exceed 12 by 12 feet—unless within a locality that enacted a policy allowing larger grows. Cultivating beyond prescribed limits wold be punishable by a $1,000 fine.
There would be a pathway for record sealing for people with prior convictions for psychedelic-related activities that have been made legal.
A new Division of Natural Medicine under the Department of Revenue (DOR) would play a central role in regulating the therapeutic program and issuing licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, testing facilities and healing centers. That’s one difference from the initiative, which gave primary responsibilities to the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).
A Federally recognized American tribes and Indigenous community working group—which was not contemplated in the ballot initiative—would be created within DORA to identify and address unintended consequences of the reform, particularly as it concerns the possible commercialization of psychedelics and religious or spiritual exploitation of native people.
The legislation clarifies that synthetic psychedelics are not permitted. And possessing psychedelics with “hazardous materials” like solvents would be considered a Class 2 felony.
Initially only psilocybin and psilocyn could be administered at healing centers, but regulators could add additional psychedelics. The bill differs from the ballot measure by making it so regulators would be able to authorize the supervised use of ibogaine at the facilities at any time, rather than waiting until at least June 1, 2026, as is the case for mescaline and DMT.
There would be four categories of licenses: healing centers, cultivation facilities, product manufacturers and and testing facilities.
The bill maintain’s the ballot measures provisions to block localities from banning healing centers, but says they may enact rules governing time, place and manner of operations.
The deadline for regulators to start accepting and reviewing license applications would be pushed back from September 30, 2024 to December 31, 2024.
Licensed psychedelic businesses will be able to deduct expenses from their state taxes, in a partial workaround to the federal 280E provision.
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The sponsor said following testimony that he anticipates filing additional amendments when the bill reaches the floor on second reading to account for some of the “good points” made at the hearing.
The bill’s findings section notes that “although there may be tremendous potential in utilizing natural medicine for managing various mental health conditions, healing, and spiritual growth, this potential must be appropriately balanced with the health and safety risks that it could pose to consumers as well as the cultural harms it could pose to indigenous and traditional communities that have connections to natural medicine.”
“Considerable harm may occur to indigenous people, communities, cultures, and religions if natural medicine is overly commodified, commercialized, and exploited in a manner that results in the erasure of important cultural and religious context,” it says.
Lawmakers face a tight deadline to get the measure passed through the legislature before the session ends in about two weeks.
The bill has received mixed early reactions, with some advocates tentatively supporting the basic framework and others strongly opposing the proposal because of what they consider to be excessive regulations.
“The bill does not recriminalize activity that was decriminalized in Proposition 122,” Fenberg argued, though he acknowledged that “there are definitely people who feel like it does.”
“I look forward to hearing more specifics and parts of the bill that is making them feel that way and that maybe we can address,” he said.
The Senate president said he ultimately feels that “we’ve struck the right balance,” with the implementation legislation.
“I think we are implementing the spirit of 122,” he said. “I think we’re doing it in a way that provides some consumer protection that is reasonable and doing in a way that provides clarity for folks—for regular citizens but also for law enforcement and the regulators as they go down this path.”
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