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Advocacy Groups Respond to Massachusetts Psychedelic Ballot Campaign
On Monday, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, New England Veterans for Plant Medicine, and Parents for Plant Medicine responded to New Approach PAC's "Massachusetts for Mental Health Options" campaign
Three Massachusetts community groups are responding to the psychedelic ballot campaign formed this month by New Approach PAC, a Washington, DC-based political action committee.
The organizations include Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, New England Veterans for Plant Medicine, and Parents for Plant Medicine. Today, they issued a press release (shown below) to express concerns.
The advocacy groups worry about New Approach’s lack of consultation with them, the potential for the out-of-state PAC to distract from locally-developed legislation, and the risk that given New Approach’s history with Oregon’s over-budget psilocybin program, its Massachusetts ballot campaign could produce an expensive psychedelic program that shuts locals out while costing taxpayers money.
Psychedelic Week emailed Ben Unger of New Approach to hear its side of the story, but he has not responded.
Last week, Unger told Boston’s public radio station WBUR, “we’re in a mental health crisis, and research has shown that psychedelic medicines can be effective in providing relief.” Unger said New Approach has focused on “regulated, licensed, supervised psychedelic therapy” in other states.
Neither Unger nor WBUR mentioned local advocacy groups. This morning, the groups issued the following press release (lightly edited for length):
Community Groups and Experts Raise Concerns About Referendum on Psilocybin Mushrooms
On July 3rd, a never-before-seen entity, "Massachusetts for Medical Choice," filed paperwork for a referendum on psilocybin mushrooms in the Commonwealth. The organization, funded by the Washington D.C.-based "New Approach" PAC, continues to hold closed door meetings across the state but has not yet released the text of the proposal to local community groups. Among these local groups is Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a nonprofit that has worked with six Massachusetts cities to end arrests for home growing and sharing psilocybin mushrooms.
“We’re a community group that has helped thousands of our neighbors in Massachusetts microdose to alleviate nerve pain and depression, using just a small piece of mushroom to produce benefits without hallucination, ” said Colomba Valencia, the Communications Director for Bay Staters. “This referendum must protect microdosing, and these outsiders should give back to help us educate.”
The referendum is being proposed at a time when state lawmakers are already considering their own reforms. Last month, dozens of partner groups and hundreds of residents testified in support of An Act Relative to Plant Medicine, a bill sponsored and supported by Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Medford), Representative Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton), and Representative Boldyga (R-Agawam).
“Rather than helping out with our existing efforts, this PAC is distracting from the local work here of bay staters,” remarked Michael Botelho, a disabled U.S. Marine Corp Veteran and Co-Founder of New England Veterans for Plant Medicine. “If they won’t allow veterans like myself to microdose at home without paying them thousands of dollars, like they did in Oregon, then their motives are clear.”
In Oregon, a similar referendum measure to the one being proposed for Massachusetts created a process for state regulators to provide psilocybin mushrooms, yet three years later no one has yet received the service. “The psilocybin services model sounds great, but has been an epic failure in Oregon. A single psilocybin session costs an average of $3,500,” remarked Noah Heller, a leader of Psilocybin Oregon and Oregon businessman who previously worked in the ketamine therapy space and initially supported the ballot measure until seeing it roll out.
Dr. Mason Marks, a law professor, and the senior fellow at the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center, has detailed similar failures, warning of what could await Massachusetts if it works with the PAC, which is responsible for the referendum in Oregon.
“Licensing fees are high, and consequently, aspiring businesses have closed their doors,” Dr. Marks wrote for Psychedelic Week. “Due to the resulting lack of licensing revenue, the state’s regulatory program, which was pitched to voters as being self-sufficient, has gone over budget. The Oregon Health Authority now asks taxpayers for a $6.6 million bailout.”
Oregon’s Cathy Rosewell Jonas, the founder of Eugene Psychedelic Integrative Center, shared that in addition to required training and certification fees of $12,000 the center must also pay a $10,000 annual fee and $60,000 for insurance and security every year. The center has not yet provided service three years after the referendum passed and remains one of only several licensed in the state. These businesses are unable to write off any costs like rent and wages from their federal taxes the way that typical businesses do because psilocybin remains highly illegal under federal law.
Due to this price structure, advocates are concerned that implementing similar rules in Massachusetts will keep prices high for decades. “In Oregon, this PAC claimed insurance and Medicaid would eventually cover costs. 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,” Heller continued. “Instead, the ‘grow, gather, gift’ model promoted by groups like Bay Staters for Natural Medicine would be affordable and accessible.”
“It seems like this Super PAC wants to turn mushrooms into the new version of for-profit ketamine. My kids suffer from severe depression from a rare neurological disease, and we face costs of nearly $20,000 or more every year. Middle class families won’t be able to afford care unless they are allowed to grow their own mushrooms at home, which is easy and practically free,” remarked Jamie Morey, the cofounder of Massachusetts-based Parents for Plant Medicine, a group of parents dedicated to seeing mushrooms legalized affordably. “They can call themselves ‘Massachusetts for Mental Health Options’ through a fake nonprofit all they want. They haven’t engaged with on-the-ground advocates like Bay Staters for Natural Medicine.”
With these concerns looming over the referendum, advocates are concerned the referendum is being rushed and could cause cultural backlash. For example, in Oregon, 25 counties and hundreds of cities moved to ban mushroom facilities after voters narrowly approved the referendum.
“This PAC is gambling its donors’ money without the due diligence of first consulting the residents who have been leading this work,” remarked James Davis, the Founder of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and former staffer to the Chair of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy.
“The very least they could do is protect microdosing and give back to our work educating people.”
James Davis, Founder of Bay Staters, firstname.lastname@example.org, 316-217-6287
Colomba Valencia, Comms Director for Bay Staters, email@example.com
Michael Botelho, Cofounder New England Vets for Plant Medicine, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie Morey, Parents for Plant Medicine, email@example.com
Noah Heller, Psilocybin Oregon, Twitter: @PsilocybinOR
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*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.