The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections approved a petition to decriminalize psychedelics on Wednesday, officially clearing the campaign for signature gathering.
It also accepted a motion to allow circulators to sign their own petitions, removing a longstanding prohibition that is viewed as especially problematic given the limited means of signature collection during the coronavirus pandemic.
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) May 6, 2020
For Decriminalize Nature D.C., things appear to be falling in place despite the challenging circumstances drug policy reform ballot campaigns across the country have found themselves in this election cycle.
The petition approval comes one day after the D.C. Council voted in favor of a bill that would, for the first time, allow for an alternative signature gathering option that doesn’t necessarily involve in-person contact.
Now, thanks to the legislation, voters will be able to download and print the petition, physically sign it, scan the document and e-mail it back to campaign headquarters.
The Council bill also included language to let circulators sign their own petitions, along the lines of the the Board’s administrative action on Wednesday.
— 🔥Adam Eidinger 🌊 (@aeidinger) May 6, 2020
Text of the approved petition states that it would make “the investigation and arrest of adults for non-commercial planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, possessing, and/or engaging in practices with entheogenic plants and fungi among the Metropolitan Police Department’s lowest law enforcement priorities”
It would also codify “that the people of the District of Columbia call upon the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to cease prosecution of residents of the District of Columbia for these activities.”
With the petition adopted and set to be published in the District Register, Decriminalize Nature D.C. can move ahead with an experimental strategy that it shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment. That will initially involve mailing petitions and educational materials about the initiative to a pool of 10,000 voters.
The mailers will be evenly distributed to four classes of residents: 1) consistent voters who signed the ballot petition for a 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, 2) consistent voters who didn’t sign the legalization petition, 3) occasional voters who backed the cannabis petition and 4) a random selection of residents pulled from the voter roll.
Based on the response rates, activists will make a determination about which voters to target for their next push. In order to qualify, they need to collect about 25,000 valid signatures by July 6. Recent polling indicates that voters would be supportive of the reform move if it appears on the November ballot.
The fate of the campaign seemed grim in the early stages of stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements that were enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers asked the mayor and District Council to allow online petition signing but heard nothing back, raising doubts about whether they would be able to collect enough while being restricted from in-person activities.
But these latest moves represent a promising lifeline for the campaign, renewing hope that psychedelics decriminalization will appear on the ballot in the nation’s capitol.
Contributions from the activist soap company Dr. Bronner’s, which is backing a number of reform campaigns across the country, will also help fund the effort
Other drug policy reform campaigns have had mixed fates amid the health crisis.
California activists had hoped to get a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s November ballot, but the campaign stalled out amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers in Oregon are holding out hope that a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes will make the ballot. The campaign already collected enough raw signatures to qualify, though they’ve yet to be validated.
Also in Oregon, a separate proposed ballot measure would decriminalize possession of all illicit drugs and use existing marijuana tax revenue to fund expanded treatment services. Activists in nearby Washington State are also working on a similar drug decriminalization and treatment measure.
Marijuana-specific reform campaigns have also felt the sting of the pandemic.
A Montana cannabis legalization campaign that sued the state to allow digital signature collection had their case dismissed last week, but organizers say they may file an appeal and will be pushing ahead despite the legal setback.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort are petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.
A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law also asked for a digital petitioning option.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 last month due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot 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.”
North Dakota advocates said that they are suspending their campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Activists behind a campaign to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska are holding out hope that they will qualify and recently unveiled a new strategy amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded last month that the 2020 legalization push is “effectively over” in the legislature. Coronavirus shifted priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
It’s not all bad news in 2020 for the reform movement, however. Prior to the outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, 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.
The D.C. psychedelics decriminalization ballot petition can be downloaded and signed below: