Despite setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic, reform advocates proved innovative and secured several victories from the local Board of Elections and District Council that allowed them to continue gathering signatures via mail and by scanning and printing signed petitions that were emailed to the campaign. They also saw a boost after mass protests enabled them to collect thousands of signatures in-person.
But they’re running against the clock. The group has until July 6 to submit 24,794 valid signatures from registered District of Columbia voters to qualify for the November ballot. They’re past the halfway point with about 16,000 collected and verified so far—meaning they have until Monday to get about 10,000 more.
It’s a hefty task, but the campaign is unique in that activists from states across the U.S. have joined in to lend their support and expertise.
Members of the team behind the psilocybin decriminalization initiative that Denver voters approved last year, individuals from Oregon who recently announced they have enough signatures to place a therapeutic psilocybin legalization measure on the state ballot and some from the team behind an effort to legalize psilocybin in California have all joined the D.C. campaign to gather signatures over the next few days.
“I know on the numbers side we probably would want to be way further ahead, but honestly the cavalry has come out in the decrim world and they’re all in D.C.,” Melissa Lavasani, the chief petitioner behind the initiative, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s an exciting energy right now and I really feel like we can do this.”
“It’s the spirit of the movement” that’s enabled the campaign to push past obstacles, she said. “We refuse to give up and we all acknowledge that we were in a mental health crisis before this pandemic hit and there are people who have never dealt with any kind of mental health issues that are dealing with it now because of this pandemic and they’re under crazy amounts of stress.”
“We’re all under so much pressure, that we think that this is just a really appropriate time to be passing something like this,” she said. “A lot of us are going to need to have some real healing after this pandemic passes.”
Kevin Matthews, who ran the Denver campaign and is the head of the national psychedelics advocacy group SPORE, told Marijuana Moment that the members who flew out to D.C. are skilled canvassers who have the backgrounds to push the local campaign forward in this final stage.
“These are folks who know how to canvass for signatures and know how to talk to people and are very comfortable with approaching strangers and just chatting about any cause,” he said. “Then adding one more layer of, you know, this cause for decriminalizing entheogens, which we’re all passionate about, that makes it that much more exciting for us to come out.”
There is one complication that the D.C. campaign is hoping to resolve: the elections board told them that they won’t be accepting signed petitions that are received after the deadline even if they were postmarked prior to July 6. Because of that—and delays in the postal system—the group is encouraging people to take photos or scan their petitions and email them so that they can print and resize them for submission.
The recent boost in canvassers is partly the result of the campaign’s decision to increase the pay per valid signature to $10. Also, the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, which has funded several psychedelics reform campaigns this year, is providing resources to fly in individuals from outside of D.C.
“It’s a global movement. It’s a human movement. This is a movement for the people,” Matthews said. “We need this rally of support because it’s an opportunity for us to show this national energy behind this movement right now. It’s really going to send a very strong signal to the rest of the country—and of course, we have Congress here as well.”