Massachusetts certifies psychedelic ballot initiative. Activists & lawmakers aim to replace it
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine squares off against New Approach PAC, urging Massachusetts lawmakers to replace a 2024 psychedelic ballot initiative funded by the PAC
*Updated February 29, 2024. The Massachusetts psychedelic ballot initiative will be analyzed and considered for possible substitution by a special joint legislative committee on ballot questions.
In 2024, Massachusetts continues to be a psychedelic battleground.
On Wednesday, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (Bay Staters) sent a press release to Psychedelic Week (reproduced in full below). Minutes earlier, I received a form email from the state ballot campaign, Massachusetts for Mental Health Options, which the DC-based New Approach PAC (New Approach) funds and oversees.
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The campaign email said Secretary of State William Galvin had certified 96,277 signatures gathered in support of the PAC-funded initiative, “well over the threshold to move forward in the process of qualification for the 2024 ballot in November.”
“We thank the Secretary and his staff for their service reviewing the nearly 100,000 signatures submitted in support,” said campaign spokesperson Jennifer Manley, “as well as the volunteers and advocates who spent many hours talking to voters around the state.”
According to the email, the ballot proposal “would allow adults 21 years and older to seek regulated access to some natural medicines under the supervision of trained facilitators in licensed therapeutic centers.” However, it makes no mention that the initiative would also allow people 21 and older to cultivate, possess, and use natural psychedelic substances at home or on private property. This home grow option appears in the first sentence of the official ballot summary approved by the state attorney general.
After the New Approach-funded campaign formed in July, it filed two nearly identical versions of its initiative. Version A contained the home grow option, and Version B excluded it. Bay Staters and other activists fought hard for home cultivation, and the campaign eventually pledged to pursue only Version A, which includes cultivation. However, its conspicuous absence from today’s email could say something about the campaign’s priorities.
This afternoon, I texted campaign spokesperson Jared Moffat, who works for New Approach and lives in Sacramento, California. Moffat declined to comment on the absence of home cultivation in the Wednesday email.
The other spokesperson, Jennifer Manly, who works for public relations firm Dewey Square, did not return Psychedelic Week’s voicemail before this article went to press.
New Approach “wants facilitators to pay tens of thousands in licensing fees every year just like in Oregon, making this care expensive for all but the ultra-wealthy,” said Colomba Klenner, a Bay Staters volunteer in the group’s Wednesday press release. In Oregon, where psilocybin services became available last summer, the price for a single dose of psilocybin typically ranges from $1,500 to $3,500, which includes supervision and a pre-administration preparatory session.
Bay Staters is working with state and local lawmakers to replace New Approach’s ballot initiative with an alternate version. Massachusetts law allows the state legislature to enact or amend an initiative before it appears on the ballot.
“We will substitute the ballot question,” says James Davis, founder of Bay Staters and a former legislative staffer to the Chair of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy. Last month, Davis urged the Select Board of Provincetown, Massachusetts to decriminalize psychedelics by declaring the enforcement of criminal penalties its lowest priority. The Select Board adopted his proposal. It also urged state lawmakers to replace New Approach’s initiative.
“This PAC is already well-hated among lawmakers for creating the unelected [Massachusetts] cannabis control commission,” says Davis in Bay Staters’ press release. The cannabis commission “has made our cannabis system one of the most embarrassing, least diverse and most restrictive in the country.”
Bay Staters also says signature gatherers employed by New Approach’s campaign misrepresented the initiative to voters to obtain signatures. They allege the paid canvassers presented themselves as volunteers, misrepresented the initiative as a purely medical proposal, and claimed psychedelic services would be covered by insurance.
During our text exchange on Wednesday, New Approach’s Moffat said he would not comment on Bay Staters’ press release or the group’s allegations.
Michael Botelho, founder of New England Veterans for Plant Medicine, says Massachusetts voters “deserve to know that ‘Massachusetts for Mental Health Options,’ is a front group for “New Approach PAC” that is shamelessly working to confuse voters and force through laws that will make it impossible for vets like me to afford this care.”
According to Bay Staters’ press release, Noah Heller says Massachusetts should be skeptical of New Approach’s claims. Heller leads Psilocybin Oregon and previously worked in the ketamine therapy space. He initially supported Oregon’s ballot initiative, which was also funded and overseen by New Approach, until he saw how inefficiently it was being rolled out.
“The psilocybin services model sounds great, but has been an epic failure in Oregon,” says Heller. “A single psilocybin session costs $3,500. Psilocybin is federally illegal, which means neither private nor public health insurance can pay for these services. While the campaign may claim that will change soon, the truth is this is highly unlikely to happen. Remember medical cannabis has been legal in some states for almost three decades and that [insurance coverage] has yet to occur.”
The full text of Bay Staters Wednesday press release is reproduced below:
Massachusetts Advocates Secure the Support Necessary to Substitute Psychedelic Ballot Question in the Legislature, Replace it with a more Affordable Alternative
Massachusetts voters may soon have the opportunity to loosen the state’s policies on psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, an illegal psychedelic the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designates a “breakthrough therapy” for depression. However, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, the nonprofit behind six local communities passing measures to end arrests for psilocybin mushrooms, is working to substitute the ballot measure for a new version they hope will keep treatments affordable.
Last month, Provincetown became the seventh community in Massachusetts to declare it will end arrests for growing and sharing psychedelic plants and fungi. The community's measure also explicitly calls for state lawmakers to substitute the ballot question by a “DC-based PAC with language that legalizes plant medicine services in a straightforward manner without an unelected control commission prone to regulatory capture by interests outside our communities.”
“We will substitute the ballot question. This PAC is already well-hated among lawmakers for creating the unelected cannabis control commission, which has made our cannabis system as one of the most embarrassing, least diverse and most restrictive in the country,” said James Davis, founder of Bay Staters and a former legislative staffer to the Chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy in Massachusetts.
“This PAC wants facilitators to pay tens of thousands in licensing fees every year just like in Oregon, making this care expensive for all but the ultra-wealthy. The PAC’s so-called protections on growing and sharing also amount to little more than hefty fines since a standard grow bag for mushrooms exceeded the limits of the bill,” remarked Colomba Klenner, a Bay Staters for Natural Medicine volunteer and certified facilitator who helps guide safe experiences.
Organizers with Bay Staters for Natural Medicines have video documentation of canvassers for New Approach PAC, the entity funding the ballot question campaign, lying to voters in an effort to get them to sign its petition. In the footage, paid canvassers can be seen making multiple misrepresentations, including claims that they are unpaid volunteers, that the law only applies to medical use, that costs will be covered by insurance, and that the ballot measure is the only way to legalize psychedelic services. The canvassers did not know the name of the organization that had hired them.
“Our residents deserve to know that ‘Massachusetts for Mental Health Options,’ is a front group for “New Approach PAC” that is shamelessly working to confuse voters and force through laws that will make it impossible for vets like me to afford this care. I heard that a veteran resigned from being their spokesperson when they learned the truth.” said Michael Botelho, the founder of New England Veterans for Plant Medicinewho shared with NBC Boston how mushrooms helped him work through PTSD.
Per reporting by WBUR, Massachusetts residents have been working with state lawmakers for substitution if the ballot measure goes forward, including former paid canvassers for New Approach PAC. Ultimately, they want to either outright pass a bill on decriminalization or submit to voters this November a package deal that would create a straightforward path to license facilitators through the Department of Public Health, as that department already does for non-psychedelic licensed counselors.
This substitute will model existing legislation that has gained traction in the state. Senator Jehlen and Representative Sabadosa filed An Act Relative to Plant Medicine, which will allow adults to grow and share modest amounts of psilocybin mushrooms without commercial the psychedelics. Republican and former police officer, Rep. Boldyga, filed a bill with the coalition that would create a simple system to become a licensed facilitator with psilocybin mushrooms.
“This is a call to action for plant medicine advocates to share their powerful stories of healing and hope,” said Representative Boldyga, who supporting the legislative push with his experience in law enforcement. “It’s critical that members of the Judiciary Committee hear from veterans, first responders, clinicians, mental health professionals, and the countless others whose lives have been transformed.”
In September, State House News Service reported on affordability concerns related to the D.C. PAC’s ballot question when the grassroots coalition with Bay Staters presented to nearly 60 state lawmakers and their staffon legislation already before lawmakers. Elected Senators and Representatives on the state’s Judiciary Committee asked how these treatments could be kept affordable. A Massachusetts mom and the wife of an Iraq War veteran, Jamie Morey, made it clear she supports the state bills over the ballot question. “This DC Super PAC is trying to rig our rules and the ballot system to profit off suffering in our communities.”
Noah Heller, an Oregon businessman who previously worked in the ketamine therapy and initially supported the ballot question passed in his state called on Massachusetts voters to be weary of New Approach PAC’s claims. “The psilocybin services model sounds great, but has been an epic failure in Oregon. A single psilocybin session costs $3,500. Psilocybin is federally illegal, which means neither private nor public health insurance can pay for these services. While the campaign may claim that will change soon, the truth is this is highly unlikely to happen. Remember medical cannabis has been legal in some states for almost three decades and that has yet to occur.”
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine: email@example.com
New England Veterans for Plant Medicine: firstname.lastname@example.org
Parents for Plant Medicine: email@example.com
*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 and other programs and institutions.
Mason Marks, MD, JD is a Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is also the Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor at Florida State University, 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. His forthcoming book on psychedelic law and politics will be published by Yale University Press. He tweets at @MasonMarksMD and @PsychedelicWeek.