A measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics has officially qualified for the November ballot in Washington, D.C.
The Board of Elections made the certification announcement during a virtual meeting on Wednesday, confirming that activists had collected enough signatures place the measure before voters in the nation’s capital.
Decriminalize Nature D.C. turned in their signatures last month following an intensive petitioning process that saw reform advocates from across the country fly in to the nation’s capital to offer assistance. The campaign needed 24,835 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure and they turned in about 35,000 raw submissions.
After independently observing the validation process, the campaign said last week that it was confident that it had enough to qualify—and the board made that official during their meeting, deeming that 25,477 of the group’s submissions were valid.
Now D.C. residents will be able to decide whether to approve the initiative, which would make entheogenic substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) August 5, 2020
Decriminalize Nature D.C. is in the process of formulating 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 and resulting social distancing protocols.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our campaign saw strong support from D.C. voters for Initiative 81 from all eight wards,” Melissa Lavasani, the chairwoman of Decriminalize Nature D.C., said in a press release. “Every District voter who signed the petition to put the initiative on the ballot helped give D.C. residents this historic opportunity to change outdated laws that criminalize people who use natural substances to overcome anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other conditions.”
A poll released in February showed that 51 percent of residents supported decriminalizing psychedelics. After they were read the pros and cons arguments, support increased to 59 percent.
“We are excited to continue educating voters ahead of the election,” Lavasani said. “Although the pandemic is an added challenge, I am confident that Initiative 81 will pass on November 3 and that D.C. will take this important step towards ending another part of the destructive and wasteful war on drugs.”
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 last 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 last week. That said, it is possible a senator will pursue the restriction in that chamber’s version of the D.C. spending bill.
The D.C. measure’s qualification for the ballot is the latest development in an increasingly prominent psychedelics reform movement in the U.S. and beyond.
In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin, with the approval of a local ballot measure. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. The City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities in January.
On Tuesday, Canada’s health minister granted exemptions allowing certain cancer patients to legally use psilocybin for end-of-life care.
Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed last 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 last 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 last month.
Organizers in Nebraska last 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 were hoping to 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. But following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group last week, hopes are dashed.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate 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.