A Massachusetts campaign says it has overcome a signature collection mishap and will be submitting more than enough new petitions to force legislative consideration of a psychedelics legalization initiative before potentially putting the issue on the 2024 ballot.
After initially turning in what it considered to be sufficient, internally verified signatures for the measure to local clerks last month, Massachusetts for Mental Health Options was notified about a technical issue affecting tens of thousands of petitions, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment. Officials reviewing the ballot sheets had alerted activists that some of the forms featured a labor union logo, a violation of the state’s signature-gathering rules.
But after deploying hundreds of petitioners for an intensive weekend drive, the New Approach PAC-backed campaign announced on Tuesday that it’s collected about 100,000 additional signatures, on top of what was already submitted to local clerks last month, giving them confidence that they’ve more than made up the difference to qualify.
Jared Moffat, spokesperson for New Approach, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that the fact that the campaign amassed such a high volume of new signatures so quickly is a testament to the popularity of the reform. And it helpfully gave the campaign “another opportunity to connect with voters,” he said.
Supporters need 74,574 valid signatures to initiate the first step of the process, which will put the reform in front of state lawmakers next year. They plan to turn in the new batch of signatures by Wednesday, the deadline to get them to municipal clerks. After the petitions are vetted by the local officials, the signatures must then be turned in to the secretary of state’s office by December 6.
“We are thrilled at the response of voters over the last week who were enthusiastic to sign our petition creating a regulated therapeutic framework to deliver natural psychedelic medicines to veterans and other Massachusetts residents suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety,” Jennifer Manley, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in a press release on Tuesday. “This will provide an avenue of hope for many people that long term pharmaceuticals have not worked for.”
This development comes comes about two months after activists made a decision to pursue one of two psychedelics measures that the state attorney general’s office had cleared in September.
The initiative the campaign selected is more expansive in that it would provide adults with a home cultivation option, wheres the other proposal wouldn’t have. The two measures were otherwise identical, and the campaign conducted internal polling before deciding which version to pursue.
If the signatures are formally verified by state officials, the legislature would have the choice to enact the reform, propose a substitute or decline to act. If lawmakers decide not to legalize psychedelics by May 1, activists would then have until July 3 to submit at least 12,429 additional valid signatures to put the proposal before voters on the November 2024 ballot.
The measure would create a regulatory framework for lawful and supervised access to psychedelics at licensed facilities. It would also legalize the possession and gifting of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca, but it would not otherwise provide for commercial retail sales of the substances.
Here are the key details of the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act:
- Adults 21 and older could legally possess, grow and share certain amounts of psychedelics.
- The covered psychedelics and possession limits are: DMT (one gram), non-peyote mescaline (18 grams), ibogaine (30 grams), psilocybin (one gram) and psilocin (one gram). Those weight limits do not include any material that the active substances are attached to or part of.
- The penalty for possession of amounts of up to double the limit would be a $100 civil fine, with amounts above that remaining criminalized.
- A Natural Psychedelic Substances Commission would be created to oversee the implementation of the law and licensing of service centers and facilitators.
- The body, which is modeled on the state’s existing Cannabis Control Commission, would be required to enact rules for regulated access of at least one psychedelic by April 1, 2026. Regulations for the rest of the substances would need to be created by April 1, 2028. It would also need to start accepting applications by September 30, 2026.
- A Natural Psychedelic Substances Advisory Board would “study and make recommendations” to the commission about issues such as public health, regulations, training for facilitators, affordable and equitable access, traditional use of psychedelics and future rules, including possible additions to the list of legal substances.
- Psychedelics purchased at licensed facilities would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, and localities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax if they permit the centers to operate in their area. Revenue would be used to fund regulation of the program.
- There are no provisions on expunging prior convictions for activities that would be made legal.
- Local governments could enact regulations on the time, location and manner of service centers, but they could not outright ban them from operating in their area.
- Adults could propagate psychedelics in a maximum 12X12 ft. space.
- There would be civil legal protections related to professional licensure, child custody and public benefits for people who participate in a legalized psychedelic activity.
- The effective date of the law would be December 15, 2024. The commission and advisory board would need to be created by March 1, 2025.
In its statement on Tuesday, the campaign also noted that Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) has separately introduced legislation that includes provisions to create a psychedelics working group to study and make recommendations about the potential therapeutic benefits of substances like psilocybin and MDMA for military veterans.
Meanwhile, the local psychedelics reform group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM) says it’s preparing to offer lawmakers a revised version of the initiative this spring. The group, which previously expressed support for the ballot measure version allowing home cultivation, is now proposing to strike language on creating a regulatory commission to oversee the program, and it also wants to give localities that authority to restrict psychedelics services in their areas.
BSNM Founder James Davis told WBUR that they’re asking legislators to swap the initiative with revised language they’re proposing. If that doesn’t happen and the initiative passes as written next November, the group said it will continue to advocate for statutory changes in the long-term.
Meanwhile, in the Massachusetts legislature, a Republican lawmaker filed three psychedelics reform bills in April, including proposals to legalize substances like psilocybin and reschedule MDMA pending federal approval while setting a price cap on therapeutic access.
There are several other pieces of psychedelics legislation that have been introduced in Massachusetts for the session by other legislators, including separate measures to legalize certain entheogenic substances for adults.
Another bill would authorize the Department of Public Health to conduct a comprehensive study into the potential therapeutic effects of synthetic psychedelics like MDMA.
Rep. Mike Connolly (D) also filed a bill in 2021 that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing on studying the implications of legalizing entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca.