Drugs may appear on many Oregon ballots next year — particularly psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. The mushrooms are in the middle of three different drug-related initiative drives: two to decriminalize and one to legalize therapeutic uses of the federally controlled drug.
The most limited effort follows in the footsteps of successful, city-level votes in Denver and Oakland, California.
Related: As Oregon Looks To Legalize, How Is Psilocybin Decriminalization Going Elsewhere?
Initiative PDX-01 has been filed to decriminalize five substances the measure defines as "psychedelic plant medicines." Psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline cacti and DMT-containing plants are among the substances affected.
The group needs 38,000 signatures and said it’s raised more than $100,000. But the Portland city auditor is still determining whether the initiative’s language meets constitutional requirements.
On a larger scale the Drug Policy Alliance, an influential national group that led cannabis legalization around the country, has filed Initiative Petition 44 for the 2020 state ballot.
The group has hired a team of political consultants and aims to decriminalize the possession of all illegal drugs in Oregon — including psilocybin. The measure would reclassify "personal non-commercial possession of certain drugs under specified amount from misdemeanor or felony" to a $100 fine or health assessment.
The third measure is narrowly focused on psilocybin and just went through a rewrite and title change.
Petitioners withdrew Initiative Petition 12 on Nov. 6. It's been replaced by Initiative petition 34, which the Oregon secretary of state approved for signature gathering on Sept. 26.
It would not decriminalize psilocybin, but instead set up a state-licensed psilocybin-assisted therapy program. The program is aimed at providing treatment for people who are diagnosed with depression or anxiety, or are addicted to drugs.
The measure is being championed by professional therapists Thomas and Sheri Eckert of Northeast Portland. They secured state approval for the initiative's language and title last year, but decided to make several significant changes.
The first change was to take out the decriminalization of psilocybin. Instead Thomas Eckert said the measure would legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy.
“So it’s not full legalization. It doesn’t parallel cannabis. There’ll be no dispensaries. Nobody is buying this and taking it home with them,” he said.
The drug would have to remain in licensed facilities where therapy takes place.
The change means that their initiative will not be affected by either of the other two drug measures. Although the PDX-01 measure takes a dig at government-licensed psilocybin facilities in its language. It says making medicines available "only through government-licensed facilities or health care centers in a country in which health care is a for-profit industry" would put up barriers for vulnerable populations.
Another significant change the Eckerts made to their measure was to add a two-year development period. During that time, stakeholders from the Oregon Health Authority, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and others would figure out how the program should operate.
“To make sure that this service will unfold in such a way that it benefits everybody involved,” said Sheri Eckert.
The development period was included at the suggestion of the people who legalized cannabis in Oregon.
“I think there’s certainly things to learn from cannabis reform and we had some good voices and advisers to listen to,” said Thomas Eckert.
The Eckerts also decided to add protections to the ballot measure, so it isn’t commandeered by big business.
“We don’t want 'big pharma' to intervene and corner this new opening,” said Thomas Eckert.
For example, the measure would limit growers to one production facility.
“We also limited the amount of service centers that could be owned by any individual or organization,” said Sheri Eckert. “So you’ll never be able to establish more than five, which is not allowing for this big corporate representation of the services.”
The Eckerts estimate they’ve raised about $250,000 so far. But they think they’ll need $800,000 to gather the necessary signatures, and still more for the actual campaign.
“So we’re looking at close to $2 million to $2.5 million on the lower level of finances needed to finish this,” said Sheri Eckert.
Thomas Eckert said successful psilocybin decriminalization efforts in Denver and Oakland haven’t had much effect on their measure.
“Because it’s not what we’re doing. We are working to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy,” he said.