Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent veto of a psychedelic decriminalization bill, Californian activists are turning directly to voters, proposing three different psychedelic ballot measures for 2024.
They believe voters are more supportive of reforms than the state’s politicians. After all, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, got in early on adult-use legalization, and in 2019 saw Oakland decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelics. Several other municipalities have since decriminalized psychedelics, including San Francisco and Berkeley.
State Senator Anthony Wiener (D) tried twice to decriminalize psychedelics statewide through the legislature. His latest bill would have decriminalized possession of drugs including psilocybin, psilocin, DMT and mescaline (except peyote). But after it finally passed both chambers, Gov. Newsom vetoed it on October 7.
“California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines—replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses,” Newsom said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it.”
“Our fight is not over,” Sen. Wiener said after the veto. “We’ll be back with legislation next year.”
But it’s the latest drug-policy disappointment of the governor’s second term. Many believe that Newsom, who beat a recall bid in 2021, has moderated his positions due to presidential ambitions. In 2022 he contradicted his past statements by vetoing a bill to authorize pilot safe consumption sites.
Unwilling to depend on the legislature and governor, organizers are now setting their own sights on presidential election day in November 2024. So far, three different initiatives are on the table. Here’s a brief look at each of them.
TREAT California Act
The TREAT California Act wouldn’t legalize or decriminalize any psychedelics. Instead, it would create a Treatment, Research, Education, Access and Therapies (TREAT) Institute. According to an official summary, this institute would fundraise to support “research, development, and delivery of psychedelic medicines and therapies.” The act would authorize total state funding of $6.6 billion over 30 years, though intellectual property developed by the institute would be expected to recoup some of that money.
It would also help “support access to care programs” to administer psilocybin and MDMA, if and when they are approved as medications by the Food and Drug Administration. It would issue grants to researchers looking into the safety and efficacy of psychedelics for conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use disorder, suicidality and pain.
In October, the campaign was officially cleared to begin gathering signatures to appear on the 2024 ballot. Like the other measures, it needs to collect at least 546,651 valid signatures by January 10, 2024.
Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative
In contrast, the Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative has broad decriminalization and marketplace-regulation goals. It would end criminal penalties for use and possession of all psychedelics for adults over 18, and allow people to grow psychedelic plants and fungi at home.
It would also regulate production and distribution of psychedelics, but with buyers requiring a recommendation from a health care practitioner.
This “responsible access model” has seen the initiative compared to California’s pioneering medical marijuana measure of 1996, Proposition 215. The initiative also calls for loose regulation of businesses, aimed at favoring legacy producers over corporations, and avoiding the kind of stringent requirements that have driven up prices and restricted access under Oregon’s therapeutic psilocybin model.
David Hodges, founder of the Church of Ambrosia in Oakland, is one of the proponents behind this campaign; another is Reggie Harris, founder of Oakland Hyphae. The measure is the most comprehensive of the three, but the campaign has not yet been cleared to begin gathering signatures.
California Psilocybin Initiative
The California Psilocybin Initiative, on the other hand, focuses purely on psilocybin, feeling this is a better bet in the short term. It would legalize “cultivation, manufacture, processing, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, sale, and personal use of psilocybin mushrooms” for adults over 21. No taxes would be charged on psilocybin sold for medical, therapeutic, religious or spiritual use.
Psilocybin would be regulated less heavily than cannabis currently is—and in fact, “as closely as practicable to non-psychoactive agriculturally produced mushrooms … provided that no regulation may be so excessive or burdensome as to make it impractical for Psilocybin Mushroom Businesses to operate and earn a profit.” Selling magic mushrooms, under this plan, wouldn’t be too much harder than selling shiitake mushrooms.
The initiative would also require the state to regulate “qualified healthcare practitioners” to administer the drug for therapeutic purposes, licensed by a professional certifying body. And it would seal records for past psilocybin criminal charges where the sentence was completed. The campaign was launched by Decriminalize California, which attempted to get a similar measure passed in the 2020 cycle. It is now collecting signatures.
It was the difficulties of in-person signature gathering, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and social distancing restrictions followed, that stymied Decriminalize California’s 2020 campaign. The current campaign has an online petition form that voters can download, sign and mail in, as Ryan Munevar, director of Decriminalize California, explained. People can also request a volunteer pack to collect signatures on the campaign’s behalf.
“Not even cannabis, back in the day, did I ever see such an open and warm response.”
Munevar described different places where he said the measure is being well received.
“Walking into a regular business—everything from a coffee shop to bookstore to tattoo parlor to yoga studios … they’re about it,” he told Filter. “Vape shops love us too, because they’re very [receptive] about certain things. I’ve never worked on an initiative where there was such a good response, not even cannabis, back in the day … did I ever see such an open and warm response.”
“If you go to a farmer’s market, it’s perfect,” he continued. “You got locals, they care about their bodies, they’re there because they want healthy food and they also want an experience.”
According to Munevar, the general idea of psychedelic reform has appeal across political, age and other divides. Young people often support it as they’re interested in recreational use. But there’s support among older voters too, he said—like parents with children who don’t have time for a “heroic dose” but do enjoy microdosing, or retired folks who want mental health relief and are tired of using pharmaceutical alternatives.
He’s also seeing support across partisan lines. “It’s universal, no one has a monopoly between Democrats or Republicans,” Munevar said. “Aside from certain elected officials, most Republicans I bump into, they’re leaning more towards the libertarian view of ‘Drugs aren’t bad, and this is my body and property, I should be able to do whatever I want with it.’ That’s the pitch they give me as to why they do it—I don’t even have to prime them for it. The Democrats are pretty much on the same wave, that it’s their body, and then they cite all the mental health benefits behind it.”
There’s a long way to go until 2024. But one recent national poll—conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for the Science of Psychedelics—showed 61 percent support for legal therapeutic access to psychedelics, and 49 percent in favor of removing criminal penalties for possession. The odds of voters in a state as blue as California passing one or more of the measures on offer look promising.