DENVER — In less than three months, Denver voters will decide whether the city decriminalizes psilocybin mushrooms, but that doesn't mean they'd be completely legal. 

The ballot initiative would prevent the city and county from prosecuting psilocybin cases.

Supporters of Denver's measure say they don't want people who use mushrooms to treat their own depression or anxiety to be penalized for possessing the drugs that help them, but it turns out that a small handful of people are actually getting in trouble.

Of the 9,267 drug cases filed by the Denver District Attorney's office in the last three years, 11 involved psilocybin. Three were for possession with intent to manufacture or distribute.

One of the biggest hurdles supporters will face is stigma. Images of long-haired hippies dancing at a music festival may come to mind, but science paints a different picture of a drug possibly more effective than antidepressants already on the market. 

Johns Hopkins researchers have suggested that it be reclassified as a drug in the same category as sleeping pills. It still needs to pass phase III clinical trials, but the FDA is on board and expediting development by giving psilocybin “breakthrough status.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t side effects.

“One problem is that the concentration of psilocybin varies significantly between species, and batches of the same species probably due to different growing conditions,” said George Greer, MD, president of the Heffter Research Institute which promotes research of hallucinogens. “Another problem is that people with a personal or family history of psychosis or mania could relapse into those conditions from taking psilocybin mushrooms.”

He points out, as virtually anyone who has ever taken psilocybin does, that “setting” is extremely important when taking these drugs as users can have bad trips but adds that a “vast majority of people who take them do not have significant problems with them.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has expressed his concern about what the rest of the country will think if the Capitol in the state first to legalize marijuana stops prosecuting people who have psychedelic mushrooms.

A spokesperson for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said “ Denver might become a magnet for those who use this substance” and said she opposes it “because we are still in the early stages of marijuana legalization and we are still learning what the impact of legalization is.”

Denver’s municipal election happens on May 7.