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After legalizing mushrooms, Denver hosted a psychedelic 'science' conference

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Denver last week, nearly 12,000 people met to talk about psychedelic drugs. Last year, Colorado decriminalized several types, including hallucinogenic mushrooms. Now the state is setting up a legal framework for psychedelics to be used in therapy. Colorado Public Radio's Jenna McMurtry was at the big conference and says there's some concern about how traditional healing plants will be commercialized.

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JENNA MCMURTRY, BYLINE: Inside a cavernous downtown convention center, people sing and dance. Hundreds more are going up and down escalators on their way to check out vendor booths and displays or hear scores of lectures.

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MCMURTRY: Forrest Tahdooahnippah is one of them. He teaches at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota and is a member of the Comanche Nation. He spoke about his community's history with natural medicines and how the United States has long suppressed them. Now that Colorado and Oregon have legalized use of some psychoactive plants, he says people are worried about unintended consequences.

FORREST TAHDOOAHNIPPAH: So there's a lot of anxiety around the legalization that, you know, expanding it to too wide of an audience will lead to too much pressure on what is a fragile habitat.

MCMURTRY: He's talking specifically about peyote here.

TAHDOOAHNIPPAH: And so there's a big anxiety that it will be overused, and all of the, you know, centuries of resistance to suppression will kind of be for nothing because just the habitat will - then the populations will be destroyed.

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MCMURTRY: Back out in the conference hall, a couple hundred vendors are already preparing to capitalize on an unexpected psychedelic boom in the next few years. Some offer retreats and growing kits. Others advertise treatment centers, even though it will be several years before they can legally open in Colorado. Another is selling a drug-free psychedelic trip.

SEAN MCALLISTER: I think it's amazing how quickly we've come to decriminalize and create a pathway for regulated psychedelics.

MCMURTRY: Sean McAllister is a Denver lawyer who was in on the ground floor when Colorado legalized cannabis in 2012.

MCALLISTER: You know, we see a lot of ambitious entrepreneurs here, and I think many of us that come from the movement to change these laws are nervous about what commercialization of psychedelics looks like. And so I hope as we move forward that we honor Indigenous wisdom on these medicines, that we go slow, that we don't overcommercialize.

TAHDOOAHNIPPAH: The commodification of psychedelics is certainly against the Indigenous tradition.

MCMURTRY: Indigenous law professor Forrest Tahdooahnippah is concerned about people trying to cash in too.

TAHDOOAHNIPPAH: One of our primary teachings is it's not for profit, it's not for sale. The purpose is healing and spiritual well-being.

MCMURTRY: Tahdooahnippah says it's important for Native people to have a seat at the table as states start writing regulations for psychedelic plants and therapy.

TAHDOOAHNIPPAH: One of the central lessons from that is that it has to be used in a ceremonial setting or else it won't work or will work incorrectly. It could even end up hurting people in some way - mentally, physically. And so it is absolutely essential to us for the well-being of the people involved that they use it in an authentic, genuine ceremonial setting.

MCMURTRY: Sean McAllister, the seasoned cannabis attorney, says that as Colorado finalizes regulations for treatment centers, he wants policies to keep them affordable and safe.

MCALLISTER: I just hope that the community comes together and shows a model of responsible psychedelic healing and use because you could see a rollback if this is not done right.

MCMURTRY: Colorado now has a draft policy for how therapy with psychedelic drugs should legally work. The soonest it could legally be offered is 2025.

For NPR News, I'm Jenna McMurtry in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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