Colorado Senate Committee Holds Marathon Hearing on Fenberg Amendment to Psychedelic Law, the Natural Medicine Health Act
The committee heard extensive witness testimony on SB23-290, Senator Fenberg's overhaul of the Natural Medicine Health Act
Dozens of witnesses testified during the event, which lasted over four hours. The hearing included heartfelt testimony from activists, lobbyists, doctors, psychologists, veterans, representatives of tribal communities, and concerned parents.
At 8:41pm, the committee approved Fenberg’s bill in a 5-2 vote, sending it to the Committee on Appropriations. The Committee also approved two amendments, L004 and L009, which Fenberg revealed at the start of the meeting.
Colorado voters approved the NMHA last November as Proposition 122. It has two primary parts. Its personal use section removed criminal penalties associated with growing, possessing, consuming, and sharing five psychedelic substances (psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine).
The regulated use section sets up a legal framework for supervised use of psilocybin and psilocin at licensed “healing centers.” The remaining three psychedelics (mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine) could be added to the regulated program after June 1, 2026.
The hearing opened with tragic stories from parents who reported losing their children after they consumed psychedelics and fatally injured themselves. One mother said her son, a college student, consumed a high dose of psilocybin before ingesting large amounts of dried protein powder and choking to death. Another reported that her son had died by jumping off the balcony of their family home. They urged the committee to include public education in Fenberg’s amendment, guardrails to promote safety, and measures to prevent businesses from making unfounded claims regarding psychedelics.
Other witnesses expressed gratitude for the positive life changes psychedelics had allowed them to make. They included veteran Jesse Gould, Founder and President of the Heroic Hearts Project, which helps veterans travel abroad to receive psychedelics. Gould humbly expressed disgust that veterans who have honorably served their country must leave the country to receive psychedelics and improve their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kevin Matthews, a veteran and early proponent of the NMHA, said psychedelics “pulled me out of a cycle of guilt, shame, and despair, to offer a new perspective that was grounded in joy and freedom and the realization that happiness is possible.”
Several witnesses, like psychologist Angela Beers, expressed concerns that the NMHA was exploiting tribal and Indigenous communities without adequately consulting them. Some praised Senator Fenberg for including the creation of an Indigenous working group in his amendment to the NMHA.
Others speaking on behalf of tribal communities felt Fenberg’s amendment didn’t go far enough. They urged him and the committee to slow down and really engage with tribal communities, and to contact the federal government and advocate for enhanced protections for their sacred practices.
Most of these comments focused on the use of mescaline, which can be derived from the peyote cactus. Each plant takes years to mature, and the species is threated by overharvesting. The NMHA excludes mescaline derived from peyote. However, several witnesses urged the committee to remove mescaline entirely from the Act.
Throughout the hearing, the most common witness concern involved Fendberg’s changes to the NMHA’s personal use section. As approved by voters, this section allows psychedelic communities, which could take many forms (from churches to social clubs), to produce, possess, consume, and share five psychedelic substances.
Under the NMHA, these communities can legally use psychedelics for a variety of purposes, including “counseling, spiritual guidance, beneficial community-based use and healing, supported use, or related services” (NMHA Section 12-170-109). This broad definition of personal use encompasses just about everything, such as religious services, social events, community healing, harm reduction, and activities aimed at boosting creativity (think of a writing retreat in the mountains).
Whatever form these unregulated ceremonies take, the language of the NMHA prohibits their leaders from receiving payment for substances they share. But the ballot initiative ostensibly allows them to be paid for their time and services.
Fenberg’s bill, SB23-290, would have prohibited compensation for all services offered outside the regulated program established by the NMHA. However, at the start of yesterday’s hearing, he introduced amendment L009.
Fenberg said L009 should address concerns about remuneration for ceremonies on the NMHA’s personal use side. A close read reveals that it changes only four words regarding remuneration. Specifically, it strikes the phrase “does not receive remuneration” from Page 25, lines 8 and 9.
Those lines state, “[n]othing in this section prohibits an individual from performing a bona fide religious, culturally traditional, or spiritual ceremony, if the individual does not receive remuneration, informs an individual engaging in the ceremony that the individual is not a licensed facilitator, and that the ceremony is not associated with commercial or for-profit activity.
Deleting the words “does not receive remuneration” doesn’t appear to address the concerns of many witnesses. The words “for-profit activity” remain in the section, which could prevent those conducting personal use ceremonies from being paid more than necessary to merely recoup their costs. As enacted by voters, the NMHA lacked this limitation.
Fenberg’s interpretation of personal use also seems narrower than the NMHA’s. He appears to conceive of personal use only as “a bona fide religious, culturally traditional, or spiritual ceremony.” That leaves out many non-religious and non-traditional practices that are allowed by the NMHA, as approved by voters.
At the meeting’s conclusion, Fenberg pledged to go back to the drawing board on remuneration, suggesting that perhaps he could improve upon the language of his L009 amendment. I’d suggest clear language stating that people providing services related to personal use cannot sell natural medicines, but they can be paid for their time and services.
Stay tuned to Psychedelic Week for more information on the NMHA and Senator Fenberg’s amendments.
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*The views expressed on Psychedelic Week do not represent the views of POPLAR at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School or the Florida State University College of Law. Psychedelic Week is an independent project unaffiliated with these programs and institutions.
Mason Marks, MD, JD is the Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor at the Florida State University College of Law. He is the senior fellow and project lead of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School and an affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Marks teaches drug law, psychedelic law, constitutional law, and administrative law. Before moving to Florida, he served on the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board where he chaired its Licensing Subcommittee. Marks has drafted drug policies for state and local lawmakers. His forthcoming book on psychedelic law and politics will be published by Yale University Press. He tweets at @MasonMarksMD and @PsychedelicWeek.