A proposal to legalize the psychedelic drug popularly known as magic mushrooms recently received a green light to move forward with the signature-gathering process. California's attorney general just approved a "circulating title and summary" that allows organizers to gather voter endorsements.
"We're very excited," says Kevin P. Saunders, a mayoral candidate in Marina, who co-authored the proposed state initiative. "We see this as a civil rights issue."
Saunders and supporters have to turn in 365,880 valid voter signatures by April 30 in order to make the statewide ballot next year, according to the Secretary of State. That's a steep ask for such a grassroots effort. Since the late 1980s, only one voter initiative has made the ballot without the help of professional signature gatherers. Organizers of the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative admit they don't have the $3 million or so it would take to get those pros into grocery store parking lots.
Like other dreamers before them, backers of legalizing psilocybin believe that volunteers or perhaps a whale of a donor will help push this initiative over the top. "Everything except actual money is coming our way," Saunders says. "We're one big donation away from being able to do this."
The measure, if approved by voters, would "decriminalize use, possession, sale, transport, or cultivation of psilocybin (a hallucinogenic compound) by persons at least 21 years of age," according to a summary published by the secretary of state.
The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office determined recently that legalizing ’shrooms could save taxpayers a few million dollars in prosecution and incarceration costs while possibly raising a few million more in taxes on legitimate sales of the drug.
So far, however, some of the drug decriminalization organizations that helped to legalize recreational cannabis do not appear to be getting on board with this effort. Saunders thinks it's personal — retribution for some of the political views he describes as "alt-left."
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"I'm willing to look them in the eye and say, 'I need your help,'" he says.
Dale Gieringer of the Drug Policy Forum of California says he personally supports mushroom legalization, but that organizers of the initiative have not laid out the case for psilocybin the way marijuana reformers had done for decades. While medical marijuana's positive attributes have contributed to public support for legalization, the same can't be said for mushrooms.
Research last year, for instance, showed some promise for using psilocybin to treat post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) patients. But that's not widely known among voters, Gieringer says.
"Organizers have a lot of work cut out for them if they're going to convince the public this is beneficial," he says.