Several drug policy reform campaigns are in the final stretch as deadlines to submit signatures for proposed ballot initiatives loom this week and next.
While the coronavirus pandemic dealt serious blows to marijuana, psychedelics and other drug reform groups in jurisdictions across the country, forcing some to end their campaigns, activists in Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are still in the game, with some running against the clock to turn in enough valid signatures to qualify and others now waiting for officials to validate petitions they’ve already submitted. That’s in addition to measures that have already qualified for November ballots in states like Mississippi, New Jersey and South Dakota.
The proposed ballot measures would accomplish everything from legalizing cannabis to decriminalizing psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Here’s a status update on where they stand:
Deadline: July 2
Smart & Safe Arizona is a campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot, and it seems to be in good shape to qualify. In April, the group said that it had collected enough raw signatures to qualify for the ballot. However, those hadn’t been verified by the state and the campaign continued petitioning to ensure success.
On Wednesday, the team turned in 420,000 signatures—well more than the 237,645 valid submissions needed to qualify.
If the measure does make it on the ballot, a recent poll indicated it would prevail. About two-thirds of Arizonans surveyed said they would support the proposal.
Under the initiative, cannabis would be legalized for recreational purposes for adults 21 and older. Adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The initiative also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
While the original deadline to submit signatures for an initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed on May 1, a federal judge recently ruled that the state must make accommodations for a separate non-cannabis ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response to it. Activists feel the ruling will also apply to the marijuana measure.
Despite pushback from state officials, the judge said on Tuesday that the campaign involved in the suit should be allowed to begin circulating petitions on July 9—and they’d have 48 days from then to gather signatures, including electronically.
That said, the state is pushing back and has appealed the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The cannabis campaign told Marijuana Moment it has deployed attorneys to ensure they are also able to benefit from the extension.
Under the proposal, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
Deadline: July 3
Activists behind an initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state turned in 182,000 raw signatures on Thursday—well more than the 121,669 valid submissions needed to qualify for the ballot.
“We are averaging 6,000 a day raw collected and are on track” to meet the signature requirement requirement, Nebraska Sen. Anna Wishart (D), a chief petitioner for the measure, told Marijuana Moment. “We also are confident we have over 38 counties qualified.”
“It is going to be close, but we are building momentum and think we are going to make it!” she said.
The measure would allow physicians to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions. Patients would be allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
While the campaign, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, suspended signature gathering amid the COVID-19 outbreak, it relaunched its efforts in May with new safety protocols in place.
Deadline: July 2
A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes already submitted signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot.
While some of the signatures have yet to be verified by the secretary of state’s office, activists behind the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act announced on Monday that they have collected a total of 164,782 signatures.
The state has already certified that activists have turned in at least 106,908 of the 112,020 needed signatures to make the ballot. Only a small percentage of more recent submissions would need to be deemed valid in order for the measure to formally gain ballot access.
The psilocybin measure would make Oregon the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to implement a therapeutic legalization model for psychedelic mushrooms. Part of the strategy to collect signatures for the initiative involved promoting an app that enabled residents to see which of their friends and family have signed, allowing them to personally reach out and push them to submit a petition.
Deadline: July 6
Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
Decriminalize Nature D.C. (DNDC) must submit 24,794 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot. They currently have about 16,000 collected and verified so far—meaning they have until Monday to get about 10,000 more.
With funding from the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, the group is flying in activists to aid in their final signature gathering push, including leadership from the successful campaign to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver last year.
Advocates faced serious challenges when they had to suspend in-person signature gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic, but local lawmakers gave them a boost when the D.C. Council approved emergency legislation allowing for alternative collection methods. DNDC then launched a test, sending 10,000 petitions to residents across the city and asking them to sign and return them.
They got another boost during protests over racial injustice and police brutality this month, gathering about 5,000 new signatures for the initiative at booths where demonstrators were gathered.
Here’s the status of other drug policy campaigns that have either succeeded or failed so far this year:
The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate—for the November ballot. The state is currently validating those submissions.
A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.
Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.
An effort to place a psilocybin legalization measure on California’s ballot ended after the coronavirus pandemic presented petitioning difficulties and officials didn’t agree to a request to allow electronic signature gathering.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.