Marijuana and drug policy reform advocates came into 2020 believing it would be a big—and perhaps unprecedented—year for legalization and decriminalization measures on state ballots. From California to Missouri to Oregon, they had high hopes for placing far-reaching initiatives before voters in November.
But many of those efforts have been severely impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made mass signature gathering to qualify ballot measures all but impossible as public health and government officials have urged social distancing measures.
Here’s a look at the growing list of ballot initiatives on cannabis and broader drug reforms that have been effectively halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Separate campaigns to amend California’s legal marijuana program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are calling on officials to allow them to collect ballot signatures digitally instead of in-person due to the health risks of the the latter traditional route amid the pandemic. So far those requests seem to have been ignored.
Activists in Missouri announced that they have “no practical way” of collecting enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization measure before voters amid the pandemic and are now considering shifting their focus to the 2022 election.
A campaign working to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the November ballot is temporarily suspending signature gathering efforts during the coronavirus outbreak “out of an abundance of caution.”
Activists behind a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs and expand treatment services using current marijuana tax revenue has halted in-person signature collection efforts. That said, the campaign says it has almost enough to qualify and so is urging supporters to download, print, sign and mail petitions to help. Also in Oregon, a separate team of advocates working to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms has also suspended mass signature collection efforts despite similarly having almost enough to ensure ballot access. They are asking people who want to sign to fill out an online form so that petitions can be mailed to them.
Activists in the nation’s capital were hoping to give voters a chance to decide on a measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics—including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine—in November. But they, like their colleagues in states across the country, have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person signature collection virtually impossible. They’ve asked for a change in the law to allow for electronic petition signing, but officials have demurred, and so the campaign is now exploring a plan to mail petitions to supporters who would then collect signatures from their immediate family members and close friends.
Beyond the ballot, the coronavirus outbreak has also impeded efforts to advance marijuana reform bills through state legislatures in place like Connecticut, New York and Vermont as sessions have been largely halted due to health concerns.
But it’s not all bad news for cannabis reform advocates in 2020.
In South Dakota, separate measures to legalize marijuana and allow medical cannabis have already qualified for the state’s November ballot. That said, advocates there are now urging voters to consider signing up to receive absentee ballots in case an extended pandemic complicates efforts to get to polling places come Election Day.
In Mississippi, the state certified that advocates collected a sufficient number of signatures to place a medical marijuana legalization question before voters—though lawmakers recently approved a more restrictive cannabis measure that will appear alongside and compete with the activist-driven one.
In New Jersey, the legislature voted late last year to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot.
And in Arizona, activists announced last week that they have already collected more signatures than needed to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to and verified by the state.
At the same time, most states with legal marijuana programs have deemed cannabis dispensaries and cultivation operations to be “essential” and thus exempt from orders mandating that most other businesses temporarily close down amid the coronavirus pandemic—a move that further highlights how the industry has become a mainstream part of American commerce.
Meanwhile, several of the other yet-to-be qualified measures listed above are very close to having enough signatures to make it onto their respective states’ ballots though it remains to be seen if officials will approve electronic petitioning methods as a means of safely collecting enough valid signatures or if the campaigns will be able to bring in sufficient support through other means such as targeted mailing of petitions to prospective signers.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.