Activists in Washington, D.C. are concerned that the spread of the coronavirus will impede signature gathering efforts for a proposed local ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelics, and they’re asking the mayor and District Council to resolve the issue by allowing people to sign the petition online instead of in person.
In a letter sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and lawmakers on Tuesday, Decriminalize Nature D.C. said that the risk of viral transmissions is significant for signature gathers, who they estimate will come into contact with 250,000 people collectively in order to qualify their initiative for the November ballot.
Therefore, the group is calling for emergency legislation to be enacted that would provide a means for residents to sign petitions online.
At @councilofdc asking for emergency legislation to give voters option to sign petitions online rather than force person person contact #coronavirus #CoronaOutbreak #USA #supertuesday2020 #SuperTuesday @BrianneKNadeau @charlesallen @ChmnMendelson pic.twitter.com/oG0hW4Aubp
— 🔥Adam Eidinger 🌊 (@aeidinger) March 3, 2020
“We are extremely concerned that the ability to collect signatures on the petition will be adversely affected by the threat of the coronavirus,” the letter states. “There is a very serious risk that a combination of public fear and containment measures will make the traditional signature collection a practical impossibility—thus depriving the voters of their fundamental right to make their voice heard through the initiative process.”
“For that reason, we respectfully request that you develop and sponsor emergency legislation to authorize the Board of Elections to provide for online collection of signatures on initiative petitions in the event of a public health emergency involving government measures that restrict interpersonal contact and public gatherings,” it continues.
Decriminalize Nature D.C. said it recognizes that there are “unique challenges” with crafting such legislation, but it said measures could be taken to ensure the integrity of the process such as allowing individuals to verify their signatures and give them an opportunity to delete their name.
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) March 3, 2020
The Board of Elections could also be given the chance to verify signatures via mail or phone, the group recommended. The letter cites a local ordinance in Boulder, Colorado that the City Council there approved allowing for electronic signature submissions.
“We recognize the extraordinary nature of and challenges in crafting such legislation, and the implementing rules—but we are facing an extraordinary situation,” the group said. “We would be happy to work with appropriate staff in developing such emergency legislation, including submitting proposed language and identifying issues that need to be addressed.”
Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, advocates have faces procedural hurdles to get their initiative, which would would make a wide range of entheogenic substances among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities, on the ballot.
Last month, the Board of Elections determined that the measure was lawful and could proceed, and it is currently in the middle of a challenge period after the board signed off on the language. The group said they expect to receive final approval for the petition during a public meeting on March 12, after which point they could proceed to collect signatures.
In order to qualify, activists would have to gather more than 35,000 valid signatures from registered voters within 180 days of its approval.
It’s not clear whether other drug policy reform campaigns around the country will make similar requests.
California activists are collecting signatures to put psilocybin mushroom legalization on the state ballot. And in Oregon, a campaign to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use is underway.
Advocates in several other states are working to qualify marijuana-related measures for ballots.