Fears of the widening outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 has led Washington, D.C.’s Board of Elections to postpone the petition circulation drive to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. The board voted 2 to 0 at a meeting last Thursday to delay the circulation of petitions for Initiative 81 at the request of Decriminalize Nature D.C. (DNDC), the group campaigning for the measure. 

“The combination of public fear, lack of testing, and an expanding shutdown of 2020 election activities has made it obvious this isn’t the time to be knocking on doors and engaging DC voters,” said campaign spokesman Seth Rosenberg in a press release. “Now is the time for our campaigners to focus on themselves and their families’ well-being.”

The Board of Elections is now expected to adopt the official circulating petition for Initiative 81 on April 1. DNDC would then have until July 6 to turn in at least 25,000 signatures from registered voters, including at least 5% of voters in five of the city’s eight council districts. The group hopes to collect 35,000 signatures to ensure that the threshold is met.

If the initiative succeeds, 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.

Supporters Request Online Petition

Last week, DNDC sent a letter to Washington, D.C.’s mayor and city council requesting that they pass emergency legislation that would allow signatures for the initiative petition to be collected online, citing concerns over the coronavirus. The group estimated that petition circulators would have to come in close contact with as many as 250,000 individuals in order to collect the required number of signatures. City leaders have not yet acted on the request for an online petition, leading DNDC to request the delay and post an unofficial petition online so residents would have a way to express their support for the initiative.

“It has taken so much work by so many to achieve this level of success and momentum, it is frustrating to pause like this, but the campaign leadership agrees, there just isn’t any responsible way to collect 35,000 signatures right now, and we call upon the DC Council to pass emergency legislation to authorize online petitioning or extending time to circulate petitions for the November ballot,” said Melissa Lavasani, a spokeswoman for DNDC and sponsor of the initiative.

Nikolas Schiller, the field director for the group, said that it was not yet clear when activists would be able to begin collecting signatures for the initiative.

“We have trained over 50 petition circulators from all 8 Wards of DC,” he said. “Petitioners are the backbone of our campaign so we can’t send them into the field until it is safe and we have more information on COVID-19 in Washington, DC.”

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