In a significant move towards drug policy reform, Colorado Governor Jared Polis asked lawmakers for permission to grant pardons for individuals with certain psychedelic drug-related convictions. Polis made this appeal at the Psychedelics Science Conference hosted by MAPS in Denver in June — only a month after he signed the state’s Psychedelic bill.
Governor Polis explained that convictions of low-level and non-violent drug offenses have historically, and unfairly, targeted marginalized communities. Psychedelic convicts have limited employment opportunities after serving their term as these convictions go on their records. Polis further argued that these psychedelic convictions burden the criminal justice system, diverting resources from more important matters. Consequently, Polis asked that these psychedelic convictions be expunged from the criminal records of individuals so that it “doesn’t hold them back from future employment opportunities.”
Polis continued, expressing his displeasure at the fact that “in this day and age, somebody suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD can get medical coverage for very costly prescription drugs but cannot get coverage for treatment in a healing center that will address some of the underlying causes of the issue.” In addition, he stated that he looks forward to a time when people will no longer have to go to Columbia or Mexico for psychedelics therapy. Instead, they’ll come to Colorado and possibly even have their insurance cover the cost of these treatments.
Highlights of the Psychedelics Bill
In late 2022, Colorado voters passed Proposition 122, decriminalizing and regulating access to certain psychedelic plants. Also known as the Natural Medicine Health Act 2022, Prop 122 was eventually assented to and passed into law. Some highlights of the bill are as follows:
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Decriminalizes Natural Psychedelic Compounds
The Act legalizes personal possession, cultivation, sharing, and use of five (5) natural psychedelic compounds. Two (2) of these substances, psilocybin, and psilocin, are obtained from psychedelic mushrooms, while the other three (3), mescaline, dimethyltryptamine, and ibogaine, are plant-based. Only individuals aged 21 or over will be able to purchase these substances.
Licensed Psychedelic Facilities
The Act also provides for supervised use of psychedelic mushrooms by individuals aged 21 and above at licensed facilities. However, the state first needs to create a structure to regulate the operations of these licensed facilities. At the time of writing, licensed facilities are not expected to open until late 2024. Once open, Colorado will have the ability to expand the list of psychedelics available at these facilities.
Role of Local Governments
To further enforce the use of psychedelics in the state, The Act prohibits local governments from banning licensed facilities or the use of psychedelic substances by individuals older than 21. However, local authorities can regulate the use, possession, and transportation of these facilities and natural psychedelic substances. They can also prescribe penalties for underage use.
Potential Impact On Individuals with Psychedelic Convictions
If it becomes a reality, Polis’ pardon plea could change the lives of psychedelic convicts forever. Most of them have already endured the consequences of their conviction ranging from limited employment opportunities to stigmatization. Expunging these convictions, particularly from their records, will give them a chance at a new life and a restoration of dignity. It will also guide society toward empathy and compassion rather than stigmatization, ostracization, and isolation. Plus, it will address the disparities associated with drug law enforcement, especially in marginalized communities.