Discover more from Psychedelic Week
MA psychedelic campaign commits to home grow for 2024 ballot
New Approach PAC announced it will collect signatures only on Version A of its Massachusetts ballot initiative, which removes criminal penalties for home cultivation of psychedelic plants and fungi
Updated September 25, 2023: Correcting and expanding a quote from Jamie Morey.
On September 20, Jared Moffat, spokesman for the New Approach PAC (“New Approach”), sent an email to supporters of a 2024 Massachusetts ballot initiative that would change how the state regulates psychedelic substances.
Moffat’s email, sent at 8:49 am Wednesday morning, invited recipients to attend a Zoom meeting at 7 pm that evening. The Massachusetts campaign “is moving full steam ahead,” said Moffat. “Please join for a coalition call to discuss where we are and next steps for our ballot campaign to expand access to psychedelic plant medicines.”
On August 2, Moffat’s campaign sent two ballot petitions to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Petitions 23-13 (Version A) and 23-14 (Version B) are nearly identical. Both would create a regulated system for the supervised sale and consumption of naturally occurring psychedelics (psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine).
Each version specifies that psychedelics would not be medically prescribed (see Chapter 94J on page 10). Consequently, the proposed regulated program is best described as a system for supported adult use, which is effectively recreational with a requirement for onsite consumption and monitoring.
In addition to allowing supervised sales and consumption, both initiatives would eliminate criminal penalties for possessing, consuming, or sharing small amounts of plants and fungi containing the five psychedelics. The petitions have one key difference: Version A would eliminate criminal penalties for home cultivation of psychedelics and Version B would not.
In his morning email, Moffat did not say when New Approach would decide which ballot initiative it would pursue. But during the evening meeting, he said New Approach would support only Version A, which would decriminalize home cultivation. At the meeting’s start, that outcome seemed far from certain.
Moffat first said New Approach had conducted polling using only the Attorney General’s voter summaries of Version A and Version B. “And what we found in those initial results was a little discouraging,” he said. “I'll be very honest, the results that we got back showed that support starts off under 50%. It did go up a little bit after there was a small sort of explanation of the policies. But it was a little bit scary.”
Moffat then said New Approach had conducted a second round of polling that included additional explanation of what the initiatives would achieve. When “we give them some of the the rationale behind these initiatives, support was much, much stronger on both,” and “we do think that it is possible to win with both of these initiatives.”
He concluded, “what I believe is that decriminalizing home cultivation, is the right thing to do. And it's the best policy because, you know . . . people shouldn't be criminalized for seeking healing, and part of that access requires being able to produce it yourself.”
At first, this news was met with enthusiasm. “I'm thrilled that you think it's viable, based on evidence, that the bill with home grow is the one we should put our efforts behind,” said Lietenant Sarko Gergerian of the Winthrop, Massachusetts Police Department. “I’m ready to help,” he said.
Gergerian is one of sixteen registered voters whose signatures appear on Version A, as submitted to the Attorney General (and one of fifteen who signed Version B). Moffat told Psychedelic Week two other individuals signed both petitions, but the Attorney General’s office did not scan or upload the documents bearing their signatures.
Though some in attendance seemed relieved to hear Moffat’s announcement, it failed to alleviate all concerns. “I’m very, very happy that home growing is gonna be included, but I have a lot of reservations,” Jamie Morey told Moffat at Wednesday’s meeting. A mother of two young adults with depression, Morey founded the Massachusetts-based Parents for Plant Medicine.
“Frankly, to be honest [I’m unsure] about throwing my support to you guys, when there was no attempt to engage with the citizens of Massachusetts, you know, who've been fighting this fight for years now . . . like Bay Staters,” said Morey. “To have not had a conversation and a voice is disappointing.”
Morey’s comments reflect growing tensions between New Approach and community activists in several states. When the PAC funded a campaign to pass Proposition 122 (the Natural Medicine Health Act) in Colorado, local psychedelic communities felt overlooked. In a Denver Post op-ed, Matthew Duffy wrote: “As the co-founder of the Denver-based nonprofit SPORE (the Society for Psychedelic Outreach Reform and Education), one might assume I would be in favor of this proposal — but I will be voting against the measure, and I’m encouraging Coloradans to do the same.”
Duffy said Proposition 122 “is largely being pushed forward by an out-of-state PAC called New Approach — a lobbying group representing corporate interests vying to be the gatekeepers of psychedelic medicine.”
On September 6, the Massachuetts Attorney General certified ballot initiative Versions A and B, allowing Moffat’s campaign to start collecting voter signatures (74,574 are required by November 22 to keep each petition alive). Since the Attorney General certified both, the campaign could decide which version to pursue. That decision would potentially determine whether people in the state could grow psychedelics at home, which concerned local communities.
Shortly after Boston political strategists filed paperwork to form the Massachusetts campaign on July 3, local community groups issued a joint press release in response. They include Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (“Bay Staters”), New England Veterans for Plant Medicine, and Parents for Plant Medicine. These groups, and their partners throughout New England, worry about the campaign’s lack of consultation with Massachusetts communities, that the out-of-state PAC will distract from locally-developed legislation, and that New Approach might create an expensive psychedelic program that excludes locals while costing taxpayers more than anticipated (In Oregon, New Approach supported a psilocybin program that went over budget, requiring a taxpayer bailout of over $3 million).
Bay Staters and its partners have worked for years to convince six Massachusetts cities to decriminalize psychedelics, setting a national record for local decriminalization within a state. More recently, they worked with Massachusetts legislators on their own state decriminalization bills, which allow home cultivation. On September 5, they held a group press conference to promote their efforts. Bay Staters says over twenty four Massachusetts organizations support these legislative proposals.
Today, decriminalizing psychedelics through legislation seems possible. Previously, it had only been achieved by voter ballot initiative. But earlier this month, the California State Assembly’s approved Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 58 (though Governor Gavin Newsom has not signed the bill).
Some who signed ballot petition Versions A and B are unconcerned, including Gergerian. Franklin King, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Psychedelic Week, “I’m very happy about the home grow inclusion so couldn’t possibly not support this.” King said the drug war is a disaster and “current laws around psychedelics are nuts.”
This afternoon, Moffat confirmed by phone that his campaign will only collect signatures for Version A, which decriminalizes home cultivation. When asked whether he would pull Version B from the Attorney General's list of 2024 ballot initiatives, Moffat said he didn’t know whether it was possible. He’ll ask a campaign attorney.
*The views expressed on Psychedelic Week do not represent the views of Harvard University, POPLAR at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, Florida State University, or the Florida State University College of Law. Psychedelic Week is an independent project unaffiliated with these programs and institutions.
Mason Marks, MD, JD is the Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor at the Florida State University College of Law. He is the senior fellow and project lead of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School and an affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Marks teaches drug law, psychedelic law, constitutional law, and administrative law. Before moving to Florida, he served on the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board where he chaired its Licensing Subcommittee. Marks has drafted drug policies for state and local lawmakers. His forthcoming book on psychedelic law and politics will be published by Yale University Press. He tweets at @MasonMarksMD and @PsychedelicWeek.