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California Activists Plan To File New Psychedelics Legalization Ballot Initiative This Week



Activists in California say they’ll submit a proposed ballot measure this week that would legalize the use, production and eventual sales of most psychedelics, including DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA. It’s the third psychedelics-related initiative that organizers are trying to qualify for next year’s ballot after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a psychedelics legalization bill earlier this month.

The proposal, called the Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative of 2024, is relatively permissive: People would no longer face criminal penalties for the use or possession of psychedelics, and they would be able to grow psychedelic plants and fungi at home for personal use.

Dave Hodges, an organizer for the campaign and the founder of the Church of Ambrosia, in Oakland, said the measure’s goal is to provide a path for safe, legal access to psychedelics for medical treatment, therapy or spiritual use.

The initiative will take an approach similar to what was allowed in the early days of medical marijuana in California, Hodges told Marijuana Moment in an interview this week. People would need a doctor’s recommendation to legally purchase psychedelics, but entities that produce and distribute the substances would be only lightly regulated.

“We aren’t just saying, ‘Everybody gets psychedelics!'” Hodges said. “We’re saying you gotta go talk to a doctor first, and if the doctor recommends that you try them, then you can come get them.”

Draft language available on the campaign’s website as of Wednesday didn’t clearly restrict legal sales to people with a doctor’s recommendation, but Hodges said organizers are still making finishing touches before filing the prospective measure. The proposal was originally meant to legalize psychedelics more broadly, he explained, but the campaign recently changed focus toward doctor-recommended use.

Under the revised structure, a physician’s recommendation would not be required for adults to use or possess psychedelics, he added, or to cultivate psychedelic plants and fungi at home. It would only be needed to purchase the substances from legal sellers.

Compared to current law pertaining to cannabis businesses California, oversight of commercial psychedelics activity would be relatively lax. The proposal in its current draft form says that psychedelics “shall be regulated as closely as practicable to non-psychoactive agriculturally produced products.”

Nearly any business in the state could cultivate, manufacture and distribute psychedelics as a wholesaler as of January 1, 2025 provided they’re operating on land zoned for commercial agriculture and approved by the state Department of Food and Agriculture for food production.

Beginning on April 19, 2025, meanwhile, any incorporated business with a California seller’s permit—required of most retail businesses in the state—would be able to sell psychedelics.

Organizers have been working on the measure for nearly a year, but Hodges said the effort to put it on the 2024 ballot resulted largely from Newsom’s recent veto of SB 58, which would have legalized the use and cultivation of certain psychedelics and study a framework for regulated sales.

In a veto statement, the governor said he was rejecting the bill from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) because it would have removed penalties around psychedelics before setting up regulated treatment guidelines.

“We’ve accelerated this for a whole bunch of reasons, but one of them was 58,” Hodges said. “The way in which Gavin vetoed 58, and his rationale for calling for it, was really a message to us that this is what we need.”

“The fact is, this is the only chance for Californians to have access to psychedelics. We consider it to be extremely important and are committing to making it happen,” he added.

Following Newsom’s veto, Hodges said in a statement that while the measure would have been “a great step forward,” it also had major flaws around ensuring public safety and quality control.

Two other psychedelics-related ballot proposals have already been filed with the intent of qualifying them for next year’s ballot.

One, backed by the group Decriminalize California, would legalize psilocybin, including adult-use sales. That measure recently got approval from state officials to begin collecting signatures. Activists with the group have tried twice to put the reform on the ballot in prior cycles, but they’ve come up short due in large part to signature gathering complications during the pandemic.

The other prospective measure, known as the TREAT California Act, would spend $5 billion to create a state agency focused on advancing research and development of psychedelic therapies. The initiative itself would not change the legal statuses of any substances, but it would create a state constitutional right to conduct research in California using all psychedelic substances except peyote. The attorney general’s office released the official title and summary of that measure in September, and signature gathering began earlier this month.

Hodges said he doesn’t oppose the other proposals, but he feels his Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative would best secure access for Californians.

Organizers initially planned to submit the proposal to state officials earlier, in hopes of being able to gather signatures during the busy Black Friday shopping weekend, he said. “Now what we’re looking at is the Christmas madness. That’s just the next big opportunity.”

The campaign can begin collecting signatures as soon as the state attorney general’s office issues the proposal an official ballot title and summary. Hodges said he expects to file proposed language on Friday and begin collecting signatures in December. To qualify for the 2024 ballot, he said, the campaign will need to gather 546,651 valid signatures from California voters by April 23 of next year.

“If we miss the April 23 date but still gather enough signatures” within the 180-day window the state allows, he said, “then we end up on the 2026 ballot.”

Asked about the steep costs of signature-gathering in California, Hodges was confident. He said he expects members of the Church of Ambrosia—a nondenominational, interfaith religious organization that supports the use and safe access of psychedelics—to support the reform financially.

“We know we can raise it,” he said. “We have 100,000 members of the church who all want to see these things happen. It’s just a matter of giving them somewhere to put the money.”

In response to questions from Marijuana Moment about specific provisions in the draft initiative, Hodges said the campaign is still working out a few wrinkles. For example, one provision says that psychedelics sold or grown “for spiritual purposes” will be exempt from taxes, while psychedelics for medical and therapeutic use may be subject to local tax of up to 10 percent. But the measure fails to distinguish between what constitutes spiritual versus medical sales or in which cases a doctor’s recommendation is needed.

Hodges said authors will also need to add a provision protecting endangered species. The current draft would legalize mescaline and plants that contain the substance, which includes the peyote cactus. But overharvesting of peyote has led some jurisdictions, including the state of Texas, to declare it an endangered species.

And while one provision says doctors could write psychedelics recommendations for minors, another suggests that youth use would be legal with parental consent. Hodges said that was not the intent of the proposal and that the provision would be revisited before filing.

“The intent,” he clarified, “is so that a nine-year-old’s life would would be saved by allowing them to have access to these, with the primary care physician being involved and the parents being involved.”

Some California municipalities, meanwhile, are pushing forward with reform on the local level. The city of Eureka, for example, adopted a resolution last week to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi and make enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change. Others include San Francisco, OaklandSanta Cruz and Arcata.

The local approach has been embraced by a number of municipalities across the country that have sought to decriminalize the noncommercial grow-gather-gift model promoted by advocacy groups such as Decriminalize Nature. Earlier this month, leaders in Portland, Maine, adopted a similar psychedelics resolution, which also applies to sharing substances without compensation.

Cities have taken the lead in psychedelics decriminalization in recent years since Denver voters decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin in 2019. Massachusetts has seen at least five jurisdictions pass decriminalization language: Salem, Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton and Northampton. And four cities in Michigan have adopted similar measures: Ferndale, DetroitAnn Arbor and Hazel Park.

At the state level, Oregon in 2020 legalized psilocybin therapy in addition to decriminalizing possession of all drugs. The state approved the first legal psilocybin service center this past May.

And in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a psychedelics regulation bill into law in May, setting rules for a psychedelics legalization law that voters passed last year.

An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.

According to a national poll published in March, a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA, both of which have been designated by the Food and Drug Administration as “breakthrough therapies.”

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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