The nominees for a 15-member panel that will oversee Colorado’s new framework for legalized access to psychedelic mushrooms were given initial approval by a Colorado Senate committee last week.
The Natural Medicine Advisory Board is tasked with helping Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies develop rules and regulations to implement the Natural Medicine Health Act, which Colorado voters passed last November. The measure allows for licensed “healing centers” to provide access to psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactive compounds found in many species of fungi, for therapeutic purposes.
DORA Executive Director Patty Salazar told the committee the selection process for the first-of-its-kind board had to be “thoughtful and extensive.” She said the group of appointees “creates a complete puzzle” with representatives from each of the 12 categories required by the ballot measure.
“As the department that has the most boards and commissions among all state agencies, I am confident in the individuals that have been appointed and in their ability to serve the public interest of Colorado,” Salazar said. “I’m also confident that these appointees will help ensure that as other states consider the legalization of psilocybin, Colorado (will) once again serve as a model.”
Salazar said 226 people applied for the advisory board, all of whom were reviewed by the governor’s office of boards and commissions as well as DORA.
Diversity was a priority in selecting the board, Salazar said. Seven nominees are women and one is nonbinary, while 40% are people of color and 20% are Native American. The board also has two residents from the Western Slope, one from the eastern plains and three from southern Colorado.
Gov. Jared Polis’ office has denied media access to all appointees to “preserve the integrity” of the board. The appointees will need to be confirmed by the full Colorado State Senate before they can begin work.
Polis’ 15 appointees spoke publicly for the first time in a March 14 hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, which voted unanimously to advance the nominations to the full Senate. Information about each nominee is below.
Skippy Upton Mesirow
Skippy Upton Mesirow, who currently serves as a city council member in Aspen, founded a company focused on mental health and well being and said he brings a “unique combination of legislative, regulatory and policy experience to the board.”
Mesirow said Aspen has some of the worst mental health challenges in Colorado, and he led a group of scientists, clinicians and harm reduction experts to try and create a framework for psychedelic medicine in his hometown. The Natural Medicine Health Act passed before this work was finished, so Mesirow said he was excited to bring his experience to the state level.
Pueblo Sheriff David Lucero spoke about what he said were the unintended consequences Colorado saw with the legalization of marijuana. He said he wanted to join this board to look through a public safety lens at what potential consequences could pop up and to help responsibly implement the will of the state’s voters.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés is a Native American post-trauma recovery specialist with 53 years of experience. She said as a member of the board, she wants to bring safety, science, sanity and the “sacred” to the rollout of the program.
“My sense is that natural medicine might be able – in proper dosage, with scrutiny, with care and with sacred intent – can bring people possibly all the way back to true self again,” Estés said of her work with people recovering from trauma. “For this I think it is a worthy, worthy and important endeavor.”
Katina Banks is a lawyer who has supported various nonprofits and civic boards at the local, state and national levels throughout her 20-year career. She served on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and helped guide the rule-making process protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. She wants to ensure implementation is handled safely, fairly and equitably and hopes to bring consensus to the board.
Billy Wynne is also a lawyer with expertise in health policy, who has worked with a variety of health care organizations on state and federal health care policy. He said he believes natural medicines demonstrate “great promise” for supporting mental and behavioral health, and he also wants to prioritize safe and equitable access.
Dr. Alisa Hannum said she has spent most of her career as a clinical psychologist providing evidence-based treatment to veterans with PTSD and depression stemming from combat and military sexual trauma. She said Colorado has an opportunity to lead the way in developing regulations that could become a standard for other states to follow.
“Although we have evidence-based treatments for these conditions that work for many individuals, both research and my over 12 years clinical experience have demonstrated that our existing treatments are not effective for about one-third of individuals with PTSD and depression,” Hannum said. “Clinical research demonstrates that psilocybin and other natural medicines may be an effective avenue for treatment for individuals that have not responded to standard mental health care.”
Tina Ernestine Gonzales
Dr. Tina Ernestine Gonzales has experience in public health, health equity, harm reduction and public safety, and she hopes to see natural medicines alleviate some of the stress the health care system is currently under to provide. She served on the Colorado Commission on Criminal Juvenile Justice under former Gov. John Hickenlooper, and wants to be an advocate for rural Colorado.
Ricardo Baca is an Indigenous and Latino veteran journalist who said ethics has always been at the forefront of his work. He served as The Denver Post’s first cannabis editor, where he said he learned extensively about Colorado and other states’ rollout of a legal cannabis market – expertise he said will be valuable to the Natural Medicine Advisory Board.
Lundy Nelson said they are passionate about serving on the board as a representative of mental health providers as well as the disparities in access to different communities. They also have experience as someone with “lived mental health experience personally transformed by natural medicines.”
“As an underrepresented entrepreneur, I have firsthand experience with the ways the natural medicine advisory board can learn from and not repeat inequities within a nascent industry,” Nelson said.
Dr. Joshua Goodwin wants to serve as a representative for issues confronting veterans, bringing his own experience as a combat-wounded veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury to the board. He said when it comes to mental health, there is no one treatment that works for everybody, and the opportunity to add a treatment that can change just one person’s life makes pursuing natural medicine worth the effort.
Wendy Buxton-Andrade is a Prowers County Commissioner who wants to make sure the perspectives of rural Colorado are fairly considered by the board. She said she is an accu-detox specialist who has seen the benefits this has for individuals, but has concerns about the adolescent population normalizing the use of psychedelic medicine.
“As elected officials, we need to make sure that we regulate natural medicine just as we do pharmaceuticals, because they can be equally dangerous to our communities, and most importantly, to our constituents,” Buxton-Andrade said. “We all want to make sure Colorado implements this correctly, and I want to make sure it works for all of Colorado.”
William Dunn is the chief clinical officer of Eagle County Paramedics, who has worked in EMS for over 30 years and chairs Colorado’s Emergency Medical Practice Advisory Board. He is one of the authors on a 2002 study on the benefits of intranasal naloxone, a drug used by first responders to treat opioid overdoses, and said he wants to be on the ground floor of what could save lives next.
Dr. Suzanne Sisley holds the only license in the country to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms for FDA clinical trials, growing dozens of strains in a lab environment. Her work sees collaboration with underground growers, legacy farmers, mycologists and chemists to work on potency testing, expertise she hopes to bring to Colorado’s board to help shape a program that will become a model for the nation.
Dr. Bradley Conner is the director of addiction counseling at Colorado State University, and wants to serve on the board to help educate and train natural medicine facilitators and providers. He has experience designing multiple educational programs around addiction counseling and wants to see additional research on natural medicine dosing recommendations.
Dr. Sofia Chavez is a doctor of natural medicine who was raised using traditional medicines, and said she wants to support Indigenous voices and those suffering from depression as a member of the board. She’s provided culturally competent teachings and classes to health care providers and said there is a growing body of research supporting the inclusion of “sacred teaching master plants” like psychedelic mushrooms.
“These psychedelic mushrooms are a master plant, a teaching plant, that provides opportunity for healing and improving outcomes for all people and all nations,” Chavez said.
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