Financial Concerns Complicate Voting for Colorado’s Natural Medicine Health Act

The Natural Medicine Health Act 2022, also known as Ballot Initiative 58, may soon change the way Coloradans cultivate and consume psychedelic plants and fungi for natural medical use. For thousands of years, different cultures around the world have used natural plants and fungi for everything from relaxation to ceremonial rituals, and the practice is still widely used today.

Substances like psilocybin and mescaline are on the federal Schedule 1 illegal drug list. But if voters approve initiative 58 in November, the hallucinogenic substances known as psilocybin, mescaline – not derived from peyote – psilocin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and ibogaine will become legal. Classified as natural plant and fungi medicines.

Initiative 58 Spelled Out

Quality of care and safe practices in any medical setting matter just as much as the treatment being administered. Initiative 58 makes room for such protocols. Here is what the initiative hopes to accomplish.

  1. Define certain psychedelic plants and fungi as natural medicine, including dimethyltryptamine (DMT); ibogaine; mescaline (excluding peyote); psilocybin; and psilocyn;
  2. Decriminalize the personal use, possession, growth, and transport of natural medicines for persons 21 years old and older; and
  3. Create the Regulated Natural Medicine Access Program for licensed healing centers to administer natural medicine services.
  4. Create a natural medicine services program for the supervised administration of such substances;
  5. Create a framework for regulating the growth, distribution, and sale of such substances to permitted entities; and
  6. Create the Natural Medicine Advisory Board to promulgate rules and implement the regulated access program.

These steps are designed to create a safe, effective, and timely environment of care for those who use psychedelic substances to combat mental illness and other disorders of the mind and body. Such substances have also been widely used by those seeking spiritual enhancement, especially among members of indigenous tribes.

Compliments and Concerns

Those 21 and older have two modes of legal treatment, private and facilitated. They would also be able to use, possess, grow, and transport natural medicines without fear of persecution or arrest.

However, those under 21 who were caught using, possessing, growing, or transporting these natural medicines would face a petty offense charge and have to undergo four hours of drug education or counseling.

Kevin Matthews, a co-proponent of the initiative, and coalition director for Natural Medicine Colorado – who is sponsoring the initiative – had this to say about the use of psychedelic drugs outside the provisions of the initiative. “We believe that no person deserves to face incarceration or heavy fines for simply trying to heal using these medicines.”

The other co-proponent of Initiative 58, Veronica Perez, expressed concern about keeping costs down for lower-income Coloradans. “Three-thousand dollars is a lot of money for most people. So, we did look at that (the potentially high costs) and write into the measure that we need to be really careful with this (costs). We want to have access programs; we want to make sure that these prices aren't getting so out of hand.”

For some, however, that’s not enough. Jeff Hunt, the director of the Centennial Institute – a policy institute out of Colorado Christian University – worries about how far decriminalization efforts will go. “Denver has already decriminalized psilocybin and no one would be saying that we're doing very well in the City of Denver with our drug issues. And so, I'm concerned that this will take a problem that we're having in the City of Denver with the decriminalization of drugs to the entire state. I think the people of Colorado need to look at this and ask ourselves, is this really going to make our state a better place?”

More opposition comes from an unexpected source.

Matthew Duffy, co-founder of a Denver non-profit known as SPORE (the Society for Psychedelic Outreach Reform and Education) According to Duffy, “If voters approve The NMHA, it would create the framework for a state-regulated industry providing psychedelic services to people over 21, without needing a medical diagnosis.

“While this may sound like a good thing to people who want to see increased access to psychedelics, this initiative is designed for corporate control, largely restricting access to corporate-owned healing centers.”

Duffy, who supported decriminalizing psilocybin in Denver and voted for the measure continues, “The NMHA campaign insists that Colorado urgently needs state-regulated access to psychedelics, because Colorado, according to some studies, is the lowest ranked state in the country for mental health. However, these studies point to the lack of access to quality mental health services and insufficient health infrastructure as being primary factors as to why our state ranks so low. Psychedelics won’t cure this.”

It's likely Matthew Duffy and Jeff Hunt aren't the only leaders to oppose Initiative 58, but only time will tell if Colorado becomes more relaxed on its drug policy.

As for what the state stands to gain if the measure should pass?

Jobs, Revenue, and Taxes

The American Addiction Centers reports that Colorado spends a massive $648,479,958 annually on mental health expenditures, yet ranks 51st in access to mental health services. The Affordable Care Act requires that most private insurance plans equally cover both mental and physical health treatments, and have equivalent restrictions. In Colorado, there are an estimated 92 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents, but a mere 15 psychiatrists for the same 100,000 residents.

Even worse, state mental health facilities have seen a turnover rate of 30% in the past two years, with average salaries lagging 27.8% behind the norm, and not keeping up with inflation. So options are limited even with federal regulations applied.

If Initiative 58 passes in November, the state of Colorado stands to gain considerable revenue. For fiscal years 2024-2025, the state's income is expected to be around $5.2 million. It jumps to $5.6 million in 2026-2027 and will stay steady at $4.5 million for future years. Licensing fees for facilities and facilitators to administer these natural medicines is a huge chunk of the money, along with fees and taxes on the sale of natural medicine extracts for personal cultivation and use.

But unlike similar legislation for medical and recreational marijuana use, natural plant and fungi medicine might not be the ‘cash cow’ the state needs to really handle its mental health issues.

The Reality of the Situation

Overall costs for the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) are expected to increase by an estimated $0.7 million in the budget year 2022-23 and $2.2 million in the budget year 2023-24 to establish program rules, support the Natural Medicine Advisory Board and issue initial licenses prior to 21 the start of the new regulatory program created by the measure.

Once regulation begins, DORA will have costs of approximately $5.2 million in budget year 2024-25 and $5.6 million in budget year 2025-26 to regulate the cultivation, manufacture, testing, storage, transfer, sale, use, and provision of services related to psilocybin and psilocin.

With expenditures and revenue being relatively equal once regulations are enacted, should the measure pass, there’s no additional cost to the state budget.

As Veronica Perez stated, keeping costs down on these natural treatments is a key point in passing initiative 58. However, translating that into reality takes time and consideration when setting up the parameters of facilities and facilitators who will administer these natural medicines.

And just getting the process up and running is going to take serious cash flow from those funding the bill and that state legislature before they’ll ever start seeing revenue from this process.

It's certainly something for Coloradans to think about when deciding which way to cast their vote.

Additional Considerations

Should Initiative 58 pass, access to natural medicines like psilocybin may offer patients in terminal situations or long-term recovery a chance at a better quality of life. Psychedelics have been known to slow the effects of ALS, known commonly as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and help fight some cancers. They are also beneficial in combating mental illness, including addiction-based mental health issues. The opportunity for research into other beneficial impacts on long-term illnesses is certainly a plus.

By the same token, state-regulated facilities can succumb to profiteering and corporate greed.

Melanie Rose Rodgers, founder of Influential X and co-proponent of Decriminalize Colorado, known as Initiative 61 – which didn’t get enough signatures to be on the ballot – is against 58 for these reasons and more. “I hope I-58 doesn’t pass. Coming from a social justice perspective and also knowing the out-of-state PAC influence heavily funding $2.7M and who’s writing the policy. I’ve been involved with psilocybin decriminalization efforts in Denver since 2018 and have a diverse perspective. I care about marginalized communities and their needs over profiteering, self-serving models.”

Still, now that it’s on the ballot, come November 8, 2022, Coloradans will decide whether or not to pass Initiative 58. So, whether you’re for or against the legislation, get out and be part of the voting process.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.