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DC Officials Count Enough Valid Signatures To Put Psychedelics Decriminalization On Ballot, Activists Say

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Psychedelics activists in Washington, D.C. have determined by watching officials verify their petitions that they’ve collected enough valid signatures to qualify a measure to decriminalize certain entheogenic substances for the city’s November ballot.

While the Board of Elections hasn’t made an official announcement yet, advocates have been observing the validation process since turning in their petitions earlier this month. As of Thursday, they said they crossed the valid signature requirement threshold, with more submissions still left to be counted.

The board is expected to formally announce the results of the certification process at an August 5 meeting. The campaign needs 24,712 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure and they turned in about 35,000 raw submissions.

“We were confident that this was going to be the result,” Melissa Lavasani, chairwoman of Decriminalize Nature D.C., the organization behind the measure, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Friday.

While they await official certification, the organization will be developing its communications and outreach strategy to make sure voters are informed about the initiative before they hit the polls. But like with the signature gathering effort, there are some unique challenges activists will have to overcome amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think we can take the education to a whole other level and get creative with events,” Lavasani said. “Normally on a campaign we’d be going to people’s homes and having discussions about this and dinner parties. We’re going to have to get creative again. We were creative with signature gathering and we’re going to get creative with educating people. I think we’ve got a good base and we can only go up from here.”

She also said they are considering launching another poll. The group’s last one, which was conducted in February, showed that 51 percent of residents supported decriminalizing psychedelics off the bat. And after they were read the pros and cons arguments, support increased to 59 percent. That was well before the campaign was in full force soliciting for signatures, too.

“The conversations that we had in those last two weeks of our signature drive with the public were amazingly positive,” she said. “I think signature gathering—while it is a difficult way to get laws changed in any jurisdiction—is a great way to educate the public.”

Under the proposal, enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine would be made among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

At the congressional level, the group has at least one opponent: Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). While not a voting resident of the District, he’s made a habit of attempting to leverage Congress’s control over D.C. funding to block drug policy reform. Typically that’s been reserved to pushing an amendment to prevent the jurisdiction from legalizing marijuana sales, but this month, he filed a measure to undermine the psychedelics measure.

The congressman’s proposal before the House Appropriations Committee would have made it so only psilocybin mushrooms would be low police priorities and only if a doctor recommended them for medical reasons. But he withdrew it rather than force a vote, and also passed up the opportunity to file the measure for consideration on the House floor this week. That said, it is possible a senator will pursue the restriction in that chamber’s version of the D.C. spending bill.

Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country: 

Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed this month that separate measures to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs while expanding treatment services will appear on the November ballot.

Montana activists said this month that county officials have already certified that they collected enough signatures to place two marijuana legalization measure on the state ballot, though the secretary of state’s office has yet to make that official.

In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort turned in 420,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot this month.

Organizers in Nebraska this month submitted 182,000 signatures in an attempt to put a medical marijuana measure on November’s ballot.

Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative could get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The cannabis campaign is now considering a lawsuit seeking the same relief.

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.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

And in 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.

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 marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.

Washington state activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.

Congress Planning Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill In September, Sources Say

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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