Advocates in California filed a ballot initiative with state officials on Friday that would create a right “to obtain and use psychedelics for medical, therapeutic and spiritual purposes” with the recommendation of a doctor. It would also allow adults to possess and use the substances in their home as well as cultivate entheogenic plants and fungi on private property.
Known as the Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative of 2024, the measure is the third psychedelics-related prospective citizen-led measure attempting to qualify for next year’s ballot. Another would legalize psilocybin for adult and therapeutic use, while a third would commit $5 billion to create a state agency focused on advancing research and development of psychedelic therapies.
Dave Hodges, an initiative organizer and the founder of the Church of Ambrosia, in Oakland, acknowledged in an interview earlier this month that the campaign behind the newest proposal is filing its paperwork later than initially hoped. Advocates won’t be able to start gathering signatures until the state attorney general’s office issues the proposal an official ballot title and summary, which can take more than a month.
Hodges said the goal of the proposal is to ensure broad access to psychedelics while ensuring a base level of safety.
“We aren’t just saying, ‘Everybody gets psychedelics!’” Hodges said. “We’re saying you gotta go talk to a doctor first, and if the doctor recommends that you try them, then you can come get them.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) recent veto of an adult-use psilocybin bill passed by the legislature this session was a disappointment, he added, “but at the same time, I completely agree with it.” The governor said in his veto statement that he couldn’t support allowing access to psilocybin without first establishing therapeutic standards.
“My church now has over 100,000 members,” Hodges said. “If each of them could have gone and talked to a doctor before having access to psychedelics, I would have considered that a great thing.”
Compared to current law pertaining to cannabis businesses California, oversight of commercial psychedelics activity would be relatively lax. The proposal says that psychedelics “shall be regulated as closely as practicable to non-psychoactive agriculturally produced products.”
Here are some of the changes that would be made under the proposed Psychedelic Wellness and Healing initiative:
- Simple use and possession of psychedelics at a person’s home would be declared lawful. The change would apply to all “hallucinogenic substances” as identified under California law, a list that includes DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA.
- Adults could possess “as much entheogenic substances as is needed for one’s own annual personal use.”
- Cultivation on private property of psychedelic plants and fungi would be legal provided it’s done out of public view and with consent of the owner. Further, the proposal would limit state and municipal authorities from prohibiting cultivation through nuisance laws or through “impracticable” regulations.
- Beginning on January 1, 2025, any entheogenic business could begin cultivation, manufacture or wholesale distribution of psychedelics provided it operates on land zoned for commercial agriculture and approved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture for food production.
- Beginning on April 19, 2025, any incorporated business in California with a state seller’s permit—required of most retail businesses—could begin sales of psychedelic products to qualified patients or their designated caretakers.
- The proposal says that “nothing in this act shall prevent any church, spiritual organization, indigenous group, or any individual from using entheogenic plants or substances as a sacrament in their own religious or spiritual practice.” Definitions for such practices are not provided.
- With approval from local voters, a municipal tax of up to 10 percent could be applied to psychedelics products sold for medical or therapeutic use. Psychedelics grown or used for spiritual purposes, meanwhile, would not be subject to any sales, use or excise tax.
- The sale or use of endangered species or any parts thereof would not be allowed “unless the producer can demonstrate that the species, or part or product thereof, was farmed in a sustainable way and not harvested in the wild” and does not negatively affect the species in its natural habitat.
- While doctors could recommend psychedelics for any “physical or mental illness” for which the substances provide relief, specifically listed qualifying conditions would include: PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidality, spiritual development, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic and acute pain, inflammatory disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury and migraines.
- No healthcare practitioner would be “punished, or denied any right or privilege, for having recommended entheogenic plants or substances.”
- The state Department of Public Health could promulgate regulations to implement the state framework, but “the rulemaking process shall not unreasonably delay implementation.”
- Businesses would be regulated “as closely as practicable to non-psychoactive agriculturally produced products” with the exception of warning labels in English and Spanish that would be required on psychedelic product packaging.
- The state would be required to allow research into psychedelics, for example by allowing healthcare practitioners to use and deliver psychedelics to patients as well as to recommend their use.
- Doctors could recommend psychedelics to minors for the treatment of “specific and appropriate conditions” with the consent of a parent or guardian and the minor’s primary care physician.
- The state Department of Consumer Affairs and the Health and Human Services Agency would need to adopt and implement qualifications requirements for psychedelic-assisted therapy “created by an independent professional certifying body.”
- Municipalities could ban or limit the number of psychedelics businesses with approval of voters, but they could not prohibit individual or group activities permitted under the proposal.
- The “mere presence” of psychedelics in compliance with the updated law could not be used to make a determination under state law of risk of harm to a child, nor could it be used to diminish parental rights or justify the removal of a child from the home.
- Minors could be penalized for psychedelics-related activities without parental consent, but “the maximum penalty for such offense shall be no greater than a mandatory drug education program, and no conviction shall remain on the juvenile record of such a minor.”
- Adults who provide entheogens to a minor who is not a qualified patient would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,500 for a first offense and $3,000 for subsequent offenses.
- For people serving criminal sentences for convictions over conduct that would be a lesser offense under the initiative, a court would need to grant a recall or dismissal of the sentence and allow for resentencing, with no hearing necessary. After completing a sentence, records of certain convictions could be sealed.
Draft language for the would-be initiative was updated significantly this week prior to organizers filing it with state officials. Some of the revisions were because the document was based on an earlier, broader legalization proposal, while others came in response to questions posed by Marijuana Moment over an earlier version, which seemed to allow parents to provide psychedelics to children and permitted use of the peyote cactus, which is considered an endangered species and which has been overharvested in the wild as the result of psychedelics’ growing mainstream popularity. The earlier version also did not clearly define who could buy psychedelics at retail stores.
Organizers have been working on the measure for nearly a year, but Hodges said they accelerated the pace after Newsom vetoed the legislature’s legalization bill, SB 58.
“The way in which Gavin vetoed 58, and his rationale for calling for it, was really a message to us that this is what we need,” he said.
Two other psychedelics-related ballot proposals have already been filed with the intent of qualifying them for next year’s ballot.
One, backed by the group Decriminalize California, would legalize psilocybin, including adult-use sales. That measure recently got approval from state officials to begin collecting signatures. 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 large part to signature gathering complications during the pandemic.
The other prospective measure, known as the TREAT California Act, would spend $5 billion to create a state agency focused on advancing research and development of psychedelic therapies. The initiative itself would not change the legal status of any substance, but it would create a state constitutional right to conduct research in California using all psychedelic substances except peyote. The attorney general’s office released the official title and summary of that measure in September, and signature gathering began earlier this month.
Hodges said he doesn’t oppose the other proposals, but he feels his Psychedelic Wellness and Healing Initiative would best secure access for Californians.
Organizers initially planned to submit the proposal to state officials earlier, in hopes of being able to gather signatures during the busy Black Friday shopping weekend, he said. “Now what we’re looking at is the Christmas madness. That’s just the next big opportunity.”
Hodges and other organizers submitted the proposal to state officials on Friday. The attorney general’s office will accept public comments on the language through November 27, after which point an official ballot title and summary will be issued. After that, advocates can begin collecting signatures, which Hodges expects to happen in December. To qualify for the 2024 ballot, he said, the campaign will need to gather 546,651 valid signatures from California voters by April 23 of next year.
“If we miss the April 23 date but still gather enough signatures” within the 180-day window the state allows, he said, “then we end up on the 2026 ballot.”
Asked about the steep costs of signature-gathering in California, Hodges was confident. He said he expects members of the Church of Ambrosia—a nondenominational, interfaith religious organization that supports the use and safe access of psychedelics—to support the reform financially.
“We know we can raise it,” he said. “We have 100,000 members of the church who all want to see these things happen. It’s just a matter of giving them somewhere to put the money.”
Some California municipalities, meanwhile, are pushing forward with reform on the local level. The city of Eureka, for example, adopted a resolution last week to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi and make enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change. Others include San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Arcata.
The local approach has been embraced by a number of municipalities across the country that have sought to decriminalize the noncommercial grow-gather-gift model promoted by advocacy groups such as Decriminalize Nature. Earlier this month, leaders in Portland, Maine, adopted a similar psychedelics resolution, which also applies to sharing substances without compensation.
Cities have taken the lead in psychedelics decriminalization in recent years since Denver voters decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin in 2019. Massachusetts has seen at least five jurisdictions pass decriminalization language: Salem, Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton and Northampton. And four cities in Michigan have adopted similar measures: Ferndale, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Hazel Park.
At the state level, Oregon in 2020 legalized psilocybin therapy in addition to decriminalizing possession of all drugs. The state approved the first legal psilocybin service center this past May.
And in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a psychedelics regulation bill into law in May, setting rules for a psychedelics legalization law that voters passed last year.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
According to a national poll published in March, a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA, both of which have been designated by the Food and Drug Administration as “breakthrough therapies.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.