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Denver voters cast in-person ballots inside the Denver Elections Division office on Bannock Street on Election Day, May 7, 2019, in Denver. Photo by Andy Colwell, special to Colorado Politics

UPDATE 5 PM 5/8: Initiative 301, the magic mushrooms decriminalization measure, reversed a 9-point deficit and was narrowly leading by fewer than 2,000 votes in final unofficial returns Wednesday, with overseas ballots yet to be counted.


Initiative 300, the ballot measure to allow camping on public property across Denver, was defeated in Tuesday's city election by a nearly 5-1 margin.

Meanwhile, Initiative 301, decriminalizing use of "magic mushrooms," was losing by just over a 3 percentage point margin in unofficial results as of 1 a.m. Wednesday — a much narrower margin than Tuesday evening.

Both one-of-a-kind measures were watched across the country.

Initiative 300 was dubbed “the Right to Survive” by its proponents. They sought to establish a right of homeless people to live in public places as an alternative to the city’s shelter system.

The measure would have repealed an urban camping ban that the Denver City Council adopted in 2012 in response to Occupy Denver’s encampment in Civic Center. That campaign was part of a nationwide movement to protest widening income inequality.

Advocates contended that the measure would have put an end to police sweeps of homeless camps that they said simply pushed the problem of people living on the streets from one neighborhood to another.

They didn't portray the measure as a solution to homelessness but rather as a stopgap measure until the city can find more affordable and permanent housing — something they don’t anticipate happening anytime soon.

Opponents said letting homeless people camp on the streets was an inhumane policy that will do nothing to help them and would create unsafe, filthy living conditions for both the people living there and others around them.

They also contended the measure would have gone much further than merely ending the camping ban by asserting the right of homeless people to live in public spaces ranging from river banks and playgrounds to the city’s mountain park system.

The effort to defeat the measure was the most expensive campaign of the current election cycle with opponents raising $2.2 million from many downtown businesses as well as parks advocates and cultural institutions.

Together Denver — which led the campaign to defeat 300 — outraised the pro-300 Right to Survive movement by a ratio of 25 to 1.

Meanwhile, shelter and service providers remained on the sidelines ahead of the election, saying that 300's advocates and opponents failed to propose any real solutions to the problem.

Minutes before Together Denver’s watch party began at the Denver Press Club before the polls closed, spokeswoman Alvina Vasquez said Initiative 300 would have led to encampments springing up across the city, thrusting the community into disarray until city officials could amend the initiative.

The issue is flawed, Vasquez said, but not the desire to help Denver’s homeless population.

"Nobody is against the homeless community,” Vasquez said. “They want better solutions.”

Vasquez said the issue sparked thousands of conversations throughout Denver.

“Now neighborhood organizations are included in the conversation, homeowners are included in the conversation, service providers are included in the conversation,” she said. “And they have the appetite to move forward.”

Maria Garcia Berry said she knew Initiative 300 would fail. The founding partner of CRL Associates, which managed Together Denver’s opposition campaign, said that much was clear.

“But into the stratosphere of anything plus 75 percent is an amazing result that we never fathomed we’d get into,” Garcia Berry said as the depth of 300's loss became clear.

The initiative’s landslide failure speaks strongly to how Denverites feel about their parks and open spaces, she said. They took note of the arguments and decided this was not the right solution.

But Tuesday’s results were the beginning, not the end, she said.  The issue hasn’t been solved, but now the conversation is roiling enough for those concerned, invested and directly affected to get to work, she added.

Day shelters providing services could be one approach, Garcia Berry said. So could finding ways for shelters to accommodate pets.

In addition, shelters need to become more family friendly, added group spokeswoman Alvina Vasquez.

There’s no one solution, they acknowledged, because there’s not a single problem. Many approaches will be needed to help the city’s homeless population in a caring and thoughtful way.

The other ballot question was Initiative 301, which advocates dubbed the Psilocybin Initiative after the drug found in certain kinds of mushroom.

The measure sought to decriminalize psilocybin by making it the lowest possible priority for law enforcement and prosecutors.

Advocates contended that magic mushrooms can be useful as medicine. They pointed to research that has found a large single dose of psilocybin to be effective in treating depression and anxiety among cancer patients.

Those studies, however, have not been replicated and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any treatment plan.

Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to view psilocybin as an illegal controlled substance. The agency points to the hallucinogenic qualities as posing a public safety risk.

Decriminalize Denver, which led the campaign for Initiative 301, said it was not trying to create a regulated market for mushrooms in the same way that advocates for legal marijuana were able to do.

But critics who opposed marijuana legalization said they saw a similar pattern forming. They also worried about the possibility that Denver would become a tourist destination for people seeking to use magic mushrooms without any legal consequences.

Opponents also noted that current law enforcement practices have not resulted in large numbers of arrests and prosecutions.

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