Image via Denver Post
Denver prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against a rabbi who gave shrooms to his congregation after Colorado voted to legalize psilocybin.
Rabbi Ben Gorelick founded the multifaith Sacred Tribe community in Denver after being ordained as a Jewish rabbi in 2019. Unlike other synagogues, Sacred Tribe integrated regular psilocybin use into its practice, sharing shroom-infused Shabbat dinners and other psychedelic events with over 250 followers. But in January, these peaceful ceremonies came crashing to a halt after a fire inspector discovered Sacred Tribe's cultivation facility and ratted them out. Cops raided the synagogue, arresting a chemist who was on site and issuing a warrant for Gorelick, who turned himself in a few weeks later.
Denver has long been at the forefront of the national psychedelics reform movement, becoming the first US city to decriminalize shrooms in 2019. The city's decriminalization ordinance only applies to personal possession and use, though, not distribution or sales. Since Gorelick was growing and distributing shrooms, prosecutors charged him with possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute, a felony with a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
In his defense, the rabbi argued that his rights to distribute shrooms were protected by religious freedom laws. “Psychedelics are something that is deeply rooted in Judaism,” Gorelick told Boulder Weekly earlier this year. “Mushrooms are kind of the Jewish psychedelic, [but] we obviously have access to many more strains now than Judaism had access to once upon a time.”
Gorelick was confident that he would win the case, but it could have ended up in a lengthy debate. Federal religious freedom laws allow Native Americans to use peyote in religious ceremonies legally, but courts have ruled that these federal protections do not apply on the state level. And while most states have their religious freedom laws, Colorado is not one of those states. Many Jewish scholars and even other psychedelics advocates have also cast some serious doubts on claims that psychedelics use is a traditional part of Jewish spiritual practice.
This case won't end up going to court, though. During last month's midterm elections, a slim majority of Coloradans approved Proposition 122, a ballot measure that reformed the state's psychedelic prohibition laws. This new law allows adults to grow, use, and share shrooms, DMT, ibogaine, or other natural psychedelics. Psychedelics sales will remain prohibited, but since Sacred Tribe wasn't actually selling shrooms, their ceremonies are largely protected under the new law.
Gorelick received the good news when he showed up to court for arraignment last week. At the hearing, the judge told Gorelick that Denver District Attorney Carolyn Tyler had dropped all charges against him and the Sacred Tribe chemist. "In light of Proposition 122's passage, we decided it was no longer in the interest of justice to pursue either case," Tyler said, according to Westword.