'Illicit Drug Capital of the World': Denver Votes to Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms

magic mushrooms psilocybin Cubensis getty stock
The psilocybin cubensis, a species of magic mushroom, is shown growing. Denver has voted to decriminalize the drug. Getty Images

Denver has become the first U.S. city to decriminalize magic mushrooms, leading one anti-drug campaigner to dub it the "illicit drug capital of the world."

Initiative 301 passed by a close 50.56 percent on Tuesday, according to the Denver Elections Division. A total of 89,320 Denverites voted "yes" to decriminalize the psychoactive drug, while 87,341 voted "no," with a margin of 1,979.

The results will remain unofficial until May 16, the Denver Elections Division stated. Ballots from the military and overseas will also still be accepted, however those are unlikely to tip the balance, The Denver Post reported.

The initiative document states that the possession of psychoactive psilocybin mushrooms for those aged 21 and over will become the city's "lowest law-enforcement priority."

The campaign cited studies published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychopharmacology to argue the substance has benefits, including lowering the risk of opioid abuse and dependence.

But the drug still remains illegal at a federal level, and is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Usually sold raw or dried, users either eat the psilocybin mushroom plant or drink it in tea or a concentrated liquid. Effects include hallucinations and feelings of euphoria, but the substance can also heighten a person's emotional state, causing paranoia, anxiety and unpleasant trips.

Colorado has a relatively long history of progressive attitudes towards drug laws. In 2004, the citizens of Denver voted to decriminalize the possession of cannabis. And in 2012 the state became the first alongside Washington to vote to legalize recreational cannabis use. In 2016, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to allow customers to use cannabis in private businesses, including bars.

Kevin Matthews, the director of Decriminalize Denver which ran the successful campaign, told The Denver Post: "It's been one hell of a 21 and a half hours. Against all odds, we prevailed. This is what happens when a small team of dedicated and passionate people unite under a single idea to create change."

Beth McCann, Denver District Attorney, was against the initiative but said she supported the formation of a review panel to look at the effects of the drug and how it would impact the city, her spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler told Reuters.

Jeff Hunt, director of the conservative Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, commented ahead of the vote according to CBS Denver: "Denver is quickly becoming the illicit drug capital of the world. The psychedelic mushroom folks are following the same playbook that marijuana did. They're starting with decriminalization and then they're going to move on to commercialization."

UCLA psychiatry professor Charles Grob, who has researched magic mushrooms, told NBC News in June: "If, in fact, it's [the psilocybin mushroom] ever available on a mass basis, it would be imperative to have a strong education component so people could understand what these compounds are. They should not be treated in a trivial manner."