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Colorado First State to Legalize MDMA

Colorado 1st to legalize MDMA
Written by Sarah Friedman

If you’re thinking this headline doesn’t sound true, you’ll want to think again. Colorado is, indeed, the first US state to legalize MDMA, and it did it very, very quickly. But it comes with a major caveat – the US government must legalize it first. Read on to find out more.

Colorado became the first state to legalize the use of medical MDMA. But it’s not quite in effect yet…and might never be. Cannadelics.com is a comprehensive news site specializing in the cannabis and psychedelics fields, for which we put out the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter to update readers on ongoing stories and breaking news. Sign up and you’ll also get access to a bunch of deals on cannabis and psychedelics-related products, like vapes, edibles, smoking paraphernalia, and cannabinoid compounds including the popular Delta 8 & HHC. Deal are in our ‘best of’ lists, and we ask that you only purchase products you are fully comfortable using.


Passing a bill

Passing legislation often takes a lot of time. Bills are introduced, amended, voted on, amended again, fought over, voted on again, and so on, for as long as it takes. It can take months for a bill to clear different committees in either the House of Representatives (General Assembly/House of Delegates) or the Senate, and sometimes bills time-out, because they aren’t changed to a universally liked-enough version for passage, before seasonal deadlines prevail.

When it comes to controversial topics, this can add extra time, or make it that much more likely that a bill tanks out. Think about cannabis legalization, a massive point of disagreement. Several bills already bit the dust on this one, and currently two are in contention now. One bill has been floating around for months, getting passed from one committee to another, and finally making it from the House to the Senate in April. And the other was shopped around extensively before formal introduction this past July by Chuck Schumer, just to give it a better chance. Neither of these bills died yet, but their time is limited, and its hard to say if one will pass.

The reason I say all this, is to create a comparison. Bills take forever to pass – or don’t pass at all – because of disagreement between legislators, whether on the same side or opposing sides. When a bill has a strong base of support, this is less of a problem because there’s less desire for mass edits, with greater voting numbers. Especially if a bill is bipartisan, meaning supported by both sides. When there’s enough support for a bill, the opposite to what I just mentioned happens, and it passes right through. In fact, for how long some take, it’s shocking how quickly others slide right in. Such is the case with Colorado, and its bill to legalize MDMA.

Passing legislation
Passing legislation

Colorado and HB 1344

Why does it matter how fast a bill is capable of passing? Because what should have been – or might have been – a very contentious bill, actually passed through all necessary hoops in an exceptionally short period of time. In Colorado, HB 1344 was introduced to the House on March 28th of 2022, to legalize MDMA for medical use. Not only did it pass the House without amendments in the final vote (after only going through a couple committees), but it did so with a unanimous vote of 11-0 by April 8th. That’s less than two weeks.

From there, the bill was introduced to the Senate on April 13th. It passed through one committee without amendments before going to a full vote on the Senate floor with no amendments. It got this pass on April 29th, just a little over two weeks after entering the Senate. After that, it took about a month for both the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to sign, which happened on May 27th and May 31st respectively. And then it went to Governor Jared Polis’ desk. The governor signed it into law on June 8th. The bill was introduced and passed in less than two and a half months, with much of the time spent in-between, waiting for signatures. Considering it was to legalize a psychedelic drug, its incredibly fast and non-argument-producing passage, is quite interesting.

So, what is this HB 1344? It’s a bill to legalize the possession and use of MDMA with a doctor’s prescription. Why can it not go into effect yet? Because it comes with a massive caveat that the US government must first legalize the compound before Colorado’s bill has validity. Once the US passes a bill for the legal medical use of MDMA, Colorado is automatically good to go.

HB 1344 is a bill “Concerning the lawful use of a prescription drug that contains 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) that is approved by the United States food and drug administration.”

More specifically, “The act states that if the United States food and drug administration approves a prescription medicine that contains 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and if that medicine has been placed on a schedule of the federal “Controlled Substances Act”, other than schedule I, or has been exempted from one or more provisions of such act, then thereafter prescribing, dispensing, transporting, possessing, and using that prescription drug is legal in Colorado only if the medicine is possessed by a person authorized to legally possess such a controlled substance in Colorado.”

How did this bill pass?

Why did Colorado pass a bill so easily to legalize MDMA, when other drugs are ruled out? It could have to do with high rates of PTSD, especially among former military personnel. Current investigations by the organization MAPS into using MDMA to treat PTSD, have so far shown very productive. The bill’s sponsors, Representatives Patrick Neville and David Ortiz, are both army veterans, and PTSD played heavily in the work-up to at least one vote.

Colorado legalized MDMA
Colorado legalized MDMA

The vote in the House of Representatives came after several people spoke of their PTSD, and the use of MDMA to treat it, including military veterans. No doubt this was an instance of intense heartstrings-pulling, though the same tactic doesn’t always work. Similar pleading is often used for cannabis, and a lot of the time with sick kids. Even despite this, governments still turn a blind eye, which does make this particular situation stand out. Military veterans certainly command sympathy…but don’t sick kids command more? Is there another reason this might have happened?

The US currently legalized one psychedelic already for use with depression, and that’s esketamine – a form of ketamine that is one half of the compound. The other half – arketamine, will likely get a similar pass soon enough. While esketamine was legalized very quietly, probably in hopes of competing with the much bigger gray market ketamine industry that exists through the loophole of off-label prescribing, two others are getting way more publicity and public conversation.

Both psilocybin and MDMA are Schedule I Controlled Substances, but they’re also both compounds that the FDA is working to help legalize for medical use. Both compounds are in trials that were designed in concert with the FDA to help ensure that results meet regulation. And both compounds are under research by companies given a ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status for their medications, which is a designation offered by the FDA to help products reach the market faster.

The thing is, Colorado passed a bill to legalize the medical use of MDMA, not psilocybin. Now, sure, MDMA is currently more associated with PTSD, but psilocybin is coming in strong for treatment-resistant depression, making it odd – to me – that the state chose one over the other. Though I can’t give any formal explanation, and I don’t expect lawmakers to back up what I’m saying, it could be that the bigger differentiation is related to one being a purely synthetic – and therefore pharmaceutically-produced product, while the other is possible to grow at home, just like marijuana.

Whereas they both have medical uses, and seemingly in interchangeable ways, only one relies 100% on a pharmaceutical buyer’s market (MDMA), whereas one is possible to produce by individuals (magic mushrooms), making less need to purchase a formal medication. Is this the real reason Colorado was quick to pass a bill to legalize MDMA but not psilocybin? To help promote a pharmaceutical industry over personal cultivation? And can we expect more moves like this in other states as well?

Colorado and psychedelics

Colorado is already ahead when it comes to psychedelics. In 2019, Denver became the first state to decriminalize magic mushroom possession and use, making it difficult – or impossible – for law enforcement to fund arrests and prosecutions. Truth is, Denver law enforcement was already pretty lax, arresting less than 60 people per year, and only pursuing 11 cases in the three years prior.

Psychedelic plant legalization
Psychedelic plant legalization

Much like Oregon, which recently released some of the rules for its new magic mushroom industry, Colorado is going to give residents the ability to vote on whether they want to decriminalize the possession and use of some entheogenic plants (including magic mushrooms and DMT), and set up a regulated market for use. The measure – Article 170, is called the Colorado Decriminalization and Regulated Access Program for Certain Psychedelic Plants and Fungi Initiative (2022), and much like Oregon, it looks to be somewhere between a recreational and medical legalization.

Should it go through, Colorado will be the second state to do this, along with Oregon. Neither state has – or is looking to have – an actual recreational legalization complete with legal use allowed on one’s own. In Oregon, and Colorado if it passes, all legal use is relegated to specific areas, and requires a trip-sitter, though specifically one without medical training. There is obviously still a curb to climb here, as not one cannabis legalization ever came with the stipulation that it could only be used in supervised settings.

Incidentally, Colorado wants this enough that a second and similar ballot measure was also considered. This one, Measure 61, would have decriminalized possession and use of entheogenic plants, but without setting up a regulated use market. Apparently, Colorado wanted more, opting for the measure with the wider limits.

Conclusion

That Colorado wants MDMA for medical use is undeniable. Bills almost never pass fast, and infrequently with so few amendments or argument. Perhaps this is the new trend in legalizations, and we should expect more states to pass MDMA and psilocybin legislation, which is contingent on federal government approvals first. We’ll find out soon enough… Stay tuned.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.

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