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Psychedelic Policy Reform & Legal Markets in 2023

The Bay State has been a hotbed of psychedelic policy reform for some time, with at least a half-dozen local jurisdictions in the state having decriminalised psychedelics since 2021. Now, advocates believe they’re nearing success at the state-wide level.

But, 2023 saw tense debate between a local “grassroots community group”, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, and the national New Approach PAC. Bay Staters were behind successes in securing decrim. in all of the aforementioned localities, as well as others such as Portland, Maine. New Approach PAC, meanwhile, was behind successful state-wide initiatives like those seen in Oregon and Colorado, as well as cannabis ballot initiatives. Bay Staters describe New Approach as a “DC-based PAC” that “rigged the rules for psychedelics in Oregon”. In Massachusetts, New Approach supports a campaign committee called Massachusetts for Mental Health Options.

Massachusetts for Mental Health Options floated two ballot measures in the state. Both looked substantially similar to those passed on Oregon and Colorado, but there was one major difference: Version A would allow for home cultivation of named psychedelic substances, while Version B would not.

According to a 2023 year-end report, Massachusetts for Mental Health Options raised nearly $4m in donations, with familiar faces like Dr. Bronner’s and Blake Mycoskie acting as keystone donors. Some lesser-spotted psychedelic philanthropists, such as HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah, also supported the committee with substantial donations. In 2023, the committee spent $3.8m on activities related to the ballot initiative, the vast majority of which went to The Outreach Team. Interestingly, the committee made a $35,000 donation to Bay Staters for Natural Medicine on August 1st.

Bay Staters for Natural Medicine has taken a dim view of Massachusetts for Mental Health Options in general, but particularly their B-side ballot initiative that would not permit home-growing.

And that August donation certainly didn’t placate the grassroots group. Later in the year, Bay Staters claimed to have video footage of “canvassers for New Approach PAC … lying to voters” and sought to substitute the ballot question for “a more affordable alternative”.

After both versions of the ballot were cleared by the state’s Attorney General, Massachusetts for Mental Health Options decided to forward Version A, which includes home growing. The ballot initiative, titled Massachusetts Regulated Access to Psychedelic Substances Initiative, has been transmitted to the legislature. It could then be passed on to voters, subject to additional signature collection, who would decide its fate in the forthcoming November 5th, 2024 election.

The ins and outs of the situation are far more complex and nuanced than the present review allows for. Those interested in diving deeper may find Mason Marks’ coverage in Psychedelic Week useful, though apparently partisan.

One clear thread that emerges is a tussle between local actors and what are perceived as out-of-state influences, such as New Approach PAC. There also appears to be a fundamental difference in approach, with New Approach supporting regulated use models which—at least in early iterations—might be associated with significant barriers to entry such as fees and licensing hurdles; and groups like Bay Staters forwarding more fundamental, straightforward drug policy reform like decriminalisation.

While New Approach’s, well, approach, resembles something closer to respectability politics, Bay Staters’ is much more grassroots and unapologetic.

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