A California campaign has officially filed a proposed initiative for the state’s 2024 ballot that would create a $5 billion state agency tasked with funding and promoting psychedelics research that it hopes will accelerate federal legalization of substances like psilocybin and ibogaine.
As a separate campaign collects signatures for a psilocybin legalization ballot measure, proponents of the new “TREAT California Act” are seeking funding for their novel measure, which would not directly legalize or decriminalize psychedelics in the state.
Instead, the campaign—which is led by a team of seasoned strategists who previously championed successful ballot initiatives related to stem cell research—is aiming to create an agency they’re calling the Treatment, Research, Education, Access and Therapies (TREAT) Institute to identify opportunities for advancing science into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics to address serious mental health conditions like depression and addiction.
“The TREAT Institute will not be a typical government agency; it will be an innovative, effective, and lean organization that will provide a consistent, sustainable funding source,” the text of the proposed initiative to amend the state Constitution says.
“TREAT California is not a direct decriminalization or legalization effort; and it is not an initiative driven by an elected official,” it continues. “Rather, it is a path for citizens to authorize legislative change.”
The initiative’s text says it is meant to create a funding agency to “build out all the pieces of the psychedelic ecosystem necessary for this paradigm shift in mental healthcare,” with the ultimate goal of gaining Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and “making these valuable therapeutics accessible to all.”
“With FDA approval, these medicines could be rescheduled and become eligible for coverage by health insurance; thereby achieving legalization for therapeutic use and access,” it says.
With $500 million in annual funding through government agency revenue bonds—rather than tax revenue—over the span of ten years, the institute will provide grants and loans for psychedelics research. The intention is for the agency to be self-funded, with the institute reaching deals with grant recipients to hold intellectual property rights for what the research produces.
The agency would also facilitate the creational of “care programs” in California for psilocybin and MDMA once the psychedelics are approved for therapeutic use by the FDA.
Grants would need to support research into the risks and benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy for addiction, anxiety, depression, suicidality, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic and acute pain and other disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia. The campaign will begin outreach by focusing on the potential of these substances for first responders and military veterans.
Deb Hubers, COO of TREAT, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that the campaign has been in talks with leaders of the national Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and that the team has also discussed the initiative with advocates in Oregon who were behind a measure that voters in that state approved in 2020 to legalize psilocybin services.
One of the campaign’s first goals after filing the initiative last week is to fundraise $11 million to support its projected signature gathering and outreach costs.
Hubers said that the measure they’ve drafted is “very comprehensive, well-thought-out and well-researched.”
“I think the most important parts are part of our name, right? TREAT stands for the treatment, the research, the education, the access and the therapies,” she said. “For us, it’s very important to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.”
There’s another psychedelics campaign vying for the state ballot next year: Decriminalize California recently got approval from state officials to begin collecting signatures for its initiative to legalize psilocybin, including adult-use sales. Activists with the group have tried twice to put the reform on the ballot in prior cycles, but they’ve come up short, due in no small part to signature gathering complications during the coronavirus pandemic.
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TREAT’s Hubers said that the two campaigns are not actively coordinating, though she sees areas of “overlap” such as their shared interest in providing access to psychedelic treatment for veterans with mental health conditions.
“We just really want to make sure that we do this in the safest, most responsible and ethical manner,” she said.
The attorney general’s office is currently accepting public comment on the initiative. Interested parties have 30 days from last week’s filing to weigh in, after which point the campaign will have five days to tweak the measure and resubmit. The attorney general will then have 30 days to write the ballot title, summary and question.
“At that point we will have 180 days to get signatures of nearly 1 million registered voters,” Amy Daly, executive director of TREAT, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “When we submit those, if there are enough valid signatures, we qualify for the ballot.”
In order to qualify the constitutional amendment for next year’s ballot, the campaign will need at least 874,641 valid signatures from registered voters.
Huber expressed confidence that Californians would support the measure if it qualifies for the ballot, pointing to recent national polling showing that a majority of Americans back legalizing psychedelic-assisted therapy.
In the background of both psychedelics ballot campaigns, a bill to enact similar reform is advancing in the legislature. Led by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), the legislation would legalize the possession and facilitation of certain entheogenic substances by adults. It’s already passed the Senate and is moving through the committee process in the Assembly before potentially reaching the floor.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.