TOMS shoes founder gives $1 million to psilocybin legalization in Colorado

The political action committee helping fund a ballot measure to legalize psychedelics in Colorado received donations from several high-profile American businesspeople, including a $1 million contribution from Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Los Angeles-based shoe company TOMS.

According to campaign finance disclosures, New Approach PAC and New Approach Advocacy Fund have spent nearly $4.2 million this election season supporting Natural Medicine Colorado, the campaign leading Proposition 122.

Proposition 122 seeks to legalize psilocybin and psilocin, two psychoactive compounds found in certain mushrooms, for use in therapeutic settings and tasks regulators with establishing rules for a new psychedelics industry. If it passes, Proposition 122 would also decriminalize personal use, growing and sharing of certain psychedelics statewide.

As of Nov. 2, Natural Medicine Colorado had raised $5,503,186 in monetary and in-kind donations, state campaign finance filings show. About three-quarters of the campaign’s funding has come from two sources: New Approach PAC and New Approach Advocacy Fund. According to Taylor West, chief of staff for New Approach, the funding groups are separate but affiliated entities under the New Approach umbrella.

By contrast, Protect Colorado’s Kids, a campaign formed in September to oppose the measure, reported roughly $51,000 in non-monetary contributions this election season.

In 2020, New Approach PAC helped fund the ballot measure to legalize psilocybin in Oregon, counting Dr. Bronner’s soap company, Miracle-Gro maker Scott’s Company and philanthropist Henry van Ameringen among its donors.

Natural Medicine Colorado appears to be the only election initiative New Approach PAC has donated to in 2022, according to federal tax filings. New Approach Advocacy Fund, a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit, has also provided support to recreational cannabis ballot initiatives in South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri and Oklahoma this election cycle, West said.

Mycoskie, who now owns a wellness company called Madefor, topped the list of New Approach PAC’s donors this year with a $1 million contribution in June. Businessman Austin Hearst, whose grandfather founded the Hearst media empire, made multiple contributions totaling $350,000 to the political action committee throughout the course of the year.

Other notable donors include GoDaddy founder and philanthropist Robert Parsons, who gave $100,000 in December 2021, and Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, who gave $10,000 in August.

PayPal co-founder Luke Nosek, who currently manages a venture capital firm that boasts more than $1 billion worth of investments in SpaceX, gave $40,000 in October. And Dr. Bronner’s, which now offers psychedelic therapy as an employee health benefit, made its most recent contribution of $25,000 in February 2021.

The Denver Post attempted to reach donors to discuss their interest in Proposition 122; only Mycoskie responded.

In June, TOMS shoe company founder contributed $1 million to New Approach PAC, which is funding a ballot measure that seeks to legalize psychedelics in Colorado. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Speaking by phone from Costa Rica, Mycoskie said his philanthropic pursuits in the psychedelic space began with a $4 million endowment to Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. As the university has studied the effects of psychedelics on health disorders, from major depression to nicotine addiction, Mycoskie has been “absolutely amazed at what the science has been able to show in terms of how psychedelics can affect people’s mental health.”

Johns Hopkins researchers found psilocybin helped relieve depression symptoms and helped longtime smokers abstain from cigarettes in both the aforementioned small studies. Other studies have yielded promising results in psilocybin’s ability to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, end-of-life anxiety, and alcohol addiction.

Some of Colorado’s foremost psychedelics advocates are leery of the big money backing this campaign. They believe corporate interest in the measure will make the substances more expensive and less accessible, and ultimately render treatment less equitable. Mycoskie, who has previously traveled to Peru to use ayahuasca and psilocybin, disagrees.

“I don’t see how legalizing something makes it less accessible,” he said. “There’s so many people who don’t have access because it’s illegal and, like myself, they don’t want to take a chance.”

As the owner of a wellness company, Mycoskie believes psychedelics can “radically disrupt” the wellness industry, but emphasized measures should be in place to ensure people are using psychedelics with the appropriate therapist and in the right physical setting and mindset. Because Madefor is primarily an online program that ships products, psychedelics would also need to be federally legal to be integrated into the program, Mycoskie said.

“When I looked at this ballot measure, I thought, this is an opportunity to start the legalization process or decriminalization process of medicines that I think can really, really help people,” he added.

Luke Niforatos, chairman of Protect Colorado’s Kids, told The Denver Post that while the potential benefits of psilocybin are promising, they are far from conclusive. Legalizing drugs that have yet to be sufficiently vetted by science could end up harming public health instead of helping, he said.

“Federal researchers and the federal government have not determined these to have medical potential. Also, we just had the American Psychiatric Association just come out in July and say there’s inadequate scientific evidence for endorsing the use of psychedelics, like psilocybin, to treat any psychiatric disorder, which is precisely what this initiative is about,” Niforatos said. “Our experts are telling us that it’s way too fast. The science does not support this right now.”

A group of Colorado politicians that includes Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, and Attorney General Phil Weiser recently voiced opposition to the measure, arguing a lack of any approved therapies that use psychedelic mushrooms and scant scientific evidence.

More about the measure

If voters approve Proposition 122, Colorado would become the second state to legalize psilocybin behind Oregon, paving the way for a regulated psychedelics industry.

Unlike cannabis, psilocybin and psilocin would not be available for purchase over-the-counter at dispensaries for recreational use. Instead, adults ages 21 and up would be able to access and use the substances under the supervision of licensed professionals in newly established, state-licensed facilities.

If the measure passes, it would also decriminalize the personal possession, growing, use and sharing of psilocybin and psilocin, as well as ibogaine, mescaline and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin in 2019; this measure would expand decriminalization statewide.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) would be charged with developing the licensing criteria for psychedelic centers, professionals who administer the substances and the ancillary businesses that grow, manufacture, and transport the drugs.

State-licensed facilities would be able to begin administering psilocybin and psilocin by late 2024. Local governments would be prohibited from banning such facilities. Starting in 2026, the state could choose to expand the list of legalized substances to include ibogaine, mescaline and DMT.

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