When Denver voters approved Initiative 301 last week, they couldn’t have known that their votes may have impacted the future of cannabis legalization. For those who are unfamiliar, Initiative 301 essentially decriminalizes psychedelic mushrooms. While it does not make legal these mushrooms, it does make them a low priority for law enforcement and prohibit the city from “spending resources to impose criminal penalties” for personal use of mushrooms among adults aged 21+.
What does this have to do with cannabis? Despite all the enthusiasm and acceptance of cannabis among most Americans, there still remains a strong contingent who is firmly set against cannabis legalization. Perhaps the most well known of these opponents is Alex Berenson, who’s op-eds in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and new book continue to garner attention and require industry responses. (For our take on Berenson and the natural rise of a cannabis backlash, read here.)
One of the arguments made against cannabis legalization always has been and continues to be the “gateway drug” element, that cannabis is the first step on a long descent of drug use and abuse. With a number of studies confirming and debunking that theory, this theory still has legs for opponents of cannabis.
The Gateway Perception
And unfortunately, the passing of Initiative 301 may feed into that narrative moving forward.
When we asked current cannabis users what negative impacts legalization has had on their communities for our Adult Use Consumer May 2018 report, 10% reported that they believed that cannabis was a gateway to harder drugs. (Let me repeat, this was among current cannabis users!) We can quibble all day about what is and what is not a harder drug, but for the purposes of this article we can define it as “more and other” drugs.
And with psychedelics getting a lot of attention these days due, in no small part, to Michael Pollan’s best-selling How to Change Your Mind, it’s clear that the arguments for psychedelics will follow the same path set for cannabis legalization. A natural source for therapeutic good that should be regulated but not prohibited. We may be a far way off for legalization for psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics but just having the conversation shows how far we’ve come.
Prepare for the Slippery Slope Argument
It would be a failure of imagination to not see how opponents of cannabis legalization will point to Initiative 301 as a sign of the slippery slope cannabis legalization has on a community. They’ll say: First it starts with decriminalization, then legalization and the next thing you know the pungent smell of cannabis is replaced by people hallucinating in the streets. And then what comes after that—cocaine, crack, heroin?” (That’s an exaggerated argument, but it’s probably not too far off.)
The cannabis industry needs to anticipate that these types of arguments are coming. And even though Initiative 301 has nothing to do with cannabis, it’s likely to be brought up in states considering either full adult-use legalization or expanded medical usage. Colorado’s cannabis legalization report produced by the Division of Criminal Justice points to a number of positives of legalization, while also recognizing the challenges faced today regarding motor vehicle usage. This source as well as others need to be incorporated into proactive communications and reactive messaging around cannabis as a new line of attack forms. And cannabis needs to be prepared for the magic mushroom conversation and ramifications of embracing or staying away from these types of initiatives, as certainly more will sprout in the future.