The psychedelics reform movement is quietly advancing throughout the country, with four more major cities poised to take up proposals to decriminalize entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms.
Advocates in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas are pushing decriminalization measures—either through City Council action or ballot measures—aiming to build on successful campaigns to deprioritize enforcement of certain drug laws in Denver and Oakland earlier this year.
Here’s a rundown of the latest developments in these jurisdictions:
A proposed city ballot measure to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi was filed in Portland last week, and activists are now awaiting approval of templates to begin the signature gathering process.
Decriminalize Nature Portland, the group behind the 2020 initiative, said that it’s imperative to end enforcement of laws against possessing or cultivating the substances so that people can reap health benefits without fear of prosecution, citing studies demonstrating that plant medicines can treat certain mental health conditions.
“Oregon is in the middle of a peak in its mental health and homelessness rates,” Holly Sullivan, the chief petitioner, said in a press release. “And the last thing we need to be doing is locking up more of our most vulnerable folks for the possession or homegrowing of medicines that are clinically proven to treat depression, PTSD, and addiction.”
Text of the measure, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, outlines the benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine and DMT. It also argues that government resources should not be used “in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of psychedelic plants.”
The initiative states that Portland may not adopt any laws prohibiting or regulating the possession, cultivation or distribution of psychedelics for personal use. Interestingly, however, it carves out an exception allowing for regulation of the commercial sale of the substances “when the quantity being sold by the offending person is worth more than $500 per week.”
Organizers were initially pursuing reform through both a City Council petition and a ballot proposal, Sky Vavonese of Decriminalize Nature Portland told Marijuana Moment.
“As time went on, we needed to take the process into our own hands instead of leaving it up to five people who are in our local government,” Vavonese said. “So we are conversing with our city and county commissioners because they do have the executive power to fast track decriminalization once we have turned in the required signatures we need, and it is important to work with the local government workers so we have as much support as possible.”
She added that the group will have to gather about 38,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, but they’re aiming to collect more than the required amount “to be safe.”
Decriminalize Nature Portland’s Nicholas Combest is scheduled to discuss the proposal and request endorsements during a City Council meeting on Wednesday.
Read the full text of the Oregon psychedelics ballot measure below:
Decriminalize Nature Portland’s initiative is one of two psychedelics measures that activists are working to get before voters in the state next year. A separate group of organizers is pushing a statewide ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes at licensed facilities.
There’s been some confusion and misreporting on recent psychedelics reform efforts in the Windy City, but things are moving forward. While the Chicago City Council website at one point indicated recently that there was unanimous support for a decriminalization measure that made it on the consent calendar last week, it appears to have been a clerical error and has since been updated to reflect that the resolution has simply been referred to a committee.
“It needs more steps to complete, including community comment and a final vote, and has action requests that need to be addressed,” Decriminalize Nature, the national reform group behind the measure, said.
Councilman Brian Hopkins is sponsoring the legislation, which seeks to prohibit the use of government funds to enforce laws against using, possessing, transporting, cultivating or distributing psychedelics.
After listing various health benefits of psychedelics and noting increase funding for studies into the substances, the measure resolves that Chicago’s government should not “use ANY funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing any penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants for Adult Use” and that it should be “amongst the lowest level of Chicago Police Department law enforcement priorities.”
Next month, a measure to decriminalize psychedelics in Berkeley is expected to receive a hearing in a citizen-led commission. The meeting, set for November 21, will come several months after the City Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously voted in favor of sending the resolution to a separate, health-focused panel.
The citizen commission was initially expected to weigh in on the decriminalization measure this month, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature told Marijuana Moment, but a scheduling snafu bumped its consideration. Given the delay, the local government isn’t likely to take up the resolution until 2020, however. In any case, once the Community Health Commission weighs in on the reform it will go back to City Council for a formal vote on enactment.
There has been added pressure for the city to remove criminal penalties on psychedelics following the successful Council vote in neighboring Oakland to reform their laws governing the substances.
Decriminalize Nature Dallas, another offshoot of the growing national movement to reform psychedelic laws, is preparing to advance a decriminalization measure as well. Beyond psychedelics like psilocybin, however, the group said it will also add marijuana to the list of substances that would be covered, as cannabis possession remains strictly prohibited in Texas.
The measure hasn’t been filed yet, but the group’s co-founder, Tristan Seikel, told Dallas News that the time is ripe for reform.
Because of the high level of marijuana possession arrests in the city, including the plant in the proposal makes the effort unique, he said.
“It’s projected that we’ll have at least 100,000 people arrested for cannabis between now and the next time we will even be able to talk to our Legislature about it,” Seikel said at a town hall meeting earlier this month. “That’s why our campaign is very much different… When it comes to cannabis, [our campaign] should have a demonstrable effect on the number of people getting arrested.”
He said that the plan isn’t to legalize psychedelics, as advocates “don’t want to see sacred medicines just another thing you buy in the smoke shop” and that the “whole point about” allowing home cultivation “is to allow people to develop their own relationship with it and develop it on a more intimate community-based level that isn’t driven by profit.”
A spreading national movement
These latest developments represent a continuation of a trend that has rapidly evolved in 2019, with activists in two cities making history through decriminalization wins and setting the stage for a national reckoning on psychedelics policy.
Decriminalize Nature is tracking dozens of local efforts to remove criminal penalties for entheogenic substances, and many of those campaigns are coordinating with the national hub. Meanwhile, the activists behind Denver’s vote to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms launched a separate national advocacy group called SPORE in July. The group aims to spread education and share resources with local organizers interested in building on their success.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.