Will Coronavirus Derail D.C.’s Drive to Decriminalize Shrooms?

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Concerns over the continuing global outbreak of coronavirus have led activists seeking to decriminalize magic mushrooms in Washington, D.C. to ask for permission to circulate their initiative petition online. Officials with the city’s Board of Elections decided last month that the proposal from the group Decriminalize Nature Washington, D.C. could be placed on the ballot in November if enough signatures are gathered.

Under the initiative, the District of Columbia would “make investigation and arrest of adults for non-commercial planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, possessing or engaging in practices with, entheogenic plants and fungi among its lowest law enforcement priorities,” according to the text of the measure. The initiative, known as the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act, would include all plants and fungi that naturally produce the chemicals ibogaine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline, psilocybin, or psilocin.

In a letter sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser and members of the city council by Decriminalize Nature on Tuesday, advocates for the initiative said that petition circulators would have to come in contact with approximately 250,000 individuals in order to collect the necessary signatures and argued that fears over the virus will hamper democracy. To date, there have been at least 95,000 cases of coronavirus globally and 3,254 have died. More than 51,000 have already recovered from the illness. 

“We are extremely concerned that the ability to collect signatures on the petition will be adversely affected by the threat of the coronavirus. There is a very serious risk that a combination of public fear and containment measures will make the traditional signature collection a practical impossibility—thus depriving the voters of their fundamental right to make their voice heard through the initiative process,” the letter states

“For that reason, we respectfully request that you develop and sponsor emergency legislation to authorize the Board of Elections to provide for online collection of signatures on initiative petitions in the event of a public health emergency involving government measures that restrict interpersonal contact and public gatherings.”

Group Calls for Unique Legislation to Address Crisis

Decriminalize Nature wrote that an online petition could include measures that would protect the integrity of the process, including allowing signers to verify their signatures. People would also be permitted to delete their names from the petition.

“We recognize the extraordinary nature of and challenges in crafting such legislation, and the implementing rules—but we are facing an extraordinary situation,” the group said. “While online voting has unique challenges, we believe that secure digital methods exist for the certification process of ballot initiatives.”

The group also offered to assist city staff in the creation of the emergency legislation that would have to be written to gather signatures online, “including submitting proposed language and identifying issues that need to be addressed.”

For the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act to be placed on the November ballot, Decriminalize Nature will have to collect approximately 25,000 from voters registered to vote in Washington, D.C. Just how those signatures will be collected remains to be seen.


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