Organizers with Bay Staters for Natural Medicines have video documentation of canvassers for New Approach PAC, the entity funding the ballot question campaign, lying to voters in an effort to get them to sign its petition.
Massachusetts voters may soon have the opportunity to loosen the state’s policies on psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, an illegal psychedelic the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designates a “breakthrough therapy” for depression. However, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, the nonprofit behind six local communities passing measures to end arrests for psilocybin mushrooms, is working to substitute the ballot measure for a new version they hope will keep treatments affordable if signatures to get the measure on the ballot are approved.
“The PAC behind this ballot question rigged the rules for psychedelic services in Oregon, where people are now charged around $3,500 for a gram of psilocybin mushrooms that normally costs $10. We will not let this entity corner life-saving treatments in our Commonwealth,” remarked James Davis, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine Cofounder and a former staffer for the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy.
Organizers with Bay Staters for Natural Medicines have video documentation of canvassers for New Approach PAC, the entity funding the ballot question campaign, lying to voters in an effort to get them to sign its petition. In the footage, paid canvassers can be seen making multiple misrepresentations, including claims that they are unpaid volunteers, that the law only applies to medical use, that costs will be covered by insurance, and that the ballot measure is the only way to legalize psychedelic services. The canvassers were not sure of the name of the organization that had hired them.
“This PAC and its front group, ‘Massachusetts for Mental Health Options,’ are shamelessly working to confuse voters and force through laws that will make it impossible for vets like me to afford this care,” said Michael Botelho, the founder of New England Veterans for Plant Medicine who shared with NBC Boston how mushrooms helped him work through combat PTSD.
Per reporting by WBUR, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine plans to work with state lawmakers to substitute the ballot question for a combination of policies that lawmakers filed earlier this year. These policies are designed to keep future psychedelic treatments accessible and affordable.
For example, Senator Jehlen and Representative Sabadosa filed An Act Relative to Plant Medicine, which will allow adults to grow and share modest amounts of psilocybin mushrooms and related plant medicines without commercializing them. Republican and former police officer, Representative Boldyga, filed a bill with the coalition that would create a simple system to become a licensed facilitator with psilocybin mushrooms.
“This is a call to action for plant medicine advocates to share their powerful stories of healing and hope,” said Representative Boldyga. “It’s critical that members of the Judiciary Committee hear from veterans, first responders, clinicians, mental health professionals, and the countless others whose lives have been transformed.”
In September, State House News Service reported on affordability concerns related to the D.C. PAC’s ballot question when the grassroots coalition with Bay Staters presented to nearly 60 state lawmakers and their staff on legislation already before the legislative body. Elected Senators and Representatives on the state’s Judiciary Committee asked how these treatments could be kept affordable. A Massachusetts mom and the wife of an Iraq War veteran, Jamie Morey, made it clear she supports the state bills over the ballot question. “This DC Super PAC is trying to rig our rules and the ballot system to profit off suffering in our communities.”
Noah Heller, an Oregon businessman who previously worked in the ketamine therapy and initially supported the ballot question passed in his state, called on Massachusetts voters to be wary of New Approach PAC’s claims. “The psilocybin services model sounds great, but has been an epic failure in Oregon. A single psilocybin session costs $3,500. Psilocybin is federally illegal, which means neither private nor public health insurance can pay for these services. While the campaign may claim that will change soon, the truth is this is highly unlikely to happen. Remember medical cannabis has been legal in some states for almost three decades and that has yet to occur.”
Below you can find the transcript of the video documentation in question.
Transcript from November 19th between Daniel and Paid Canvassers for New Approach PAC
This conversation, which occurred at the Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain, was recorded on public property and transcribed. The identities of the journalist and the canvassers have been kept confidential for now though we are willing to review the footage and recording with journalists in-person in the public interest.
Canvasser 1: So we are collecting signatures to put a question on the 2024 ballot. It would allow adults to use psychedelics in controlled therapeutic settings. There's a lot of research that it's a really effective way to treat things like PTSD and anxiety. And we want Massachusetts voters to be given the choice of whether or not they want to allow that.
Daniel: Sorry. Can you, can you say that a little bit slower?
Canvasser 1: I'm a you know.
Daniel: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So, so this is what again?
Canvasser 1: So this is to collect support for something we would vote on that would allow adults who are in therapy for depression or anxiety or other mental illness to have the option of using psychedelics as part of their therapy. So things like mushrooms.
[The “Natural Psychedelic Substances Act” does not legalize facilitation with psychedelics for “therapy” nor does it allow therapists to offer services unless they are licensed separately. Individuals who would seek facilitation under the law would not have to be in therapy].
Daniel: Okay. And, like, and who is like.. who like… what, what organization is this?
Canvasser 1: So this is, we're a organization that's trying to get a question about it on the ballot, so that’s the political campaign.
Daniel: And who's backing it? Who's there? And like… what is the company or what's the nonprofit that is doing this?
Canvasser 1: Yeah, and that's my friend. [Canvasser 2 approaches]. I'm new. Is that right? What is the name of the PAC? I do have a… Exactly.
Canvasser 2: It's like Massachusetts coalition for Mental Health Options. I believe I have some information. [Pulls out a paper]. Yeah. Yeah. You know what? I think they actually say that as well.
[The organization backing the ballot measure is “New Approach PAC,” a D.C.-based entity that coordinated the creation of the legal vehicle “Massachusetts for Mental Health Option.” Danielle McCourt and Meredith Learner Moghimi filed the paperwork on July 3rd, and the state acknowledged receipt on July 5th. McCourt, who serves as campaign chair, owns DLM Strategies, a political strategy firm. Moghimi, who leads the political firm MLM Strategies, serves as treasurer. McCourt & Moghimi later referred journalists to Ben Unger of the New Approach PAC, confirming the PAC’s involvement]
Daniel: Yeah. is that, like, a handout? Can I keep this with me?
Canvasser 2: I actually need to take it back. I'm sorry, but if you want to take a look at it quick, Well, you can make sure you have two copies.
Daniel: Yeah, that's all yours. cool. Okay. And, Yeah. So where are you guys with? I would love to sign up. Yeah. What is the..
Canvasser 1: Are you registered to vote in Massachusetts? Are you in Boston?
Canvasser 1: Would you be willing to sign and then print your name here and then print your address?
Daniel: I could, but what's your… what's the name again?
Canvasser 2: I believe it's Massachusetts… for mental health options, something like that. It's like a coalition of several, like, different groups that are supporting it. So it's not like a single. I don't believe it's like a single entity.
Daniel: And do you know how much the treatments are? I mean, is it free?
Canvasser 1: I don't anticipate it being free. I'm not sure. I think part of the eventual goal is for it to be covered by your insurance the same way that like Medicare is like…
[The substances in question remain Schedule I Narcotics federally that cannot be covered under private nor state insurance].
Daniel: Do you think this is the same group that they did in Oregon?
Canvasser 1: No. So this is a group that is based in Massachusetts, but it's a similar effort. And because of, you know, how much it costs, I don't know. and we know if, like, but it would be required by a doctor here.
[The bill would not require psychedelics to be done with or by doctors].
Daniel: Have you heard how much it is going to cost?
Canvasser 2: Not at all.
Daniel: Kind of concerns me a little bit because what if it cost like seven or $10,000? And then, I mean, like, I cannot afford it.
This isn't to sign it and this is to sign up so that we can vote whether or not we wanna do that at the state.
That makes sense. Yeah. So it's to put it on the ballot a year from now, it's a question to basically legalize this and make it … like regulate it like a medication essentially.
So you're not signing up like she mentioned to, to, to take the medication or to buy the medication, which is to basically get on the ballot becomes an actual thing in Massachusetts.
Daniel: And can you say the name of the PAC again?
Canvasser 2: I believe it's Massachusetts for a mental health option and this this is like no…
Daniel: Who are they?
Canvasser 2: I don't know. Everybody that's in there now, you know, I'm not sure.
Daniel: Do they… What is the interest that they have in the ballot?
Canvasser 1: I mean, I think that they've seen that… I would expect that there is evidence that psychedelics have been an effective treatment. But and it's not currently legal in Massachusetts and so they'd like to change that both for themselves and for other people to have more options to treat their mental health like you would say that this is to help people.
Daniel: Is that… is that the only way? The only way to.
Canvasser 2: Nope. It's just to increase options.
Daniel: But is this the only way to like get it legalized.
Canvasser 1: Yeah.
Canvasser 2: Yes. Through medical.
Daniel: Is this like… this is a medical thing?
Canvasser 1: Right. So there is a hypothetical possibility of getting it legalized for recreational use. But this specific effort is to get it for medical use.
[Due to pressure from grassroots coalition groups like Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, New Approach PAC opted to include limited cultivation and sharing protections for the psychedelic fungi and plants in question. This law does not require that all use be strictly regulated, and in that regard would legalize recreational use and sharing. Using the term “medical” is misleading because facilitation services would be entirely distinct from the licensing of doctors or other mental health professionals and the substances in question remain Schedule I Narcotics federally that cannot be covered under insurance].
Daniel: You… you guys think that this is the only way to get legalization in Massachusetts?
Canvasser 1: I think it's a useful first step. Whether it will lead to broader legalization for recreational use, I'm not sure.
Daniel: But yeah, and, I would love to know, like, if this passes, like, how much is it going to cost?
Canvasser 2: I don't know. I'm sorry.
Canvasser 1: Yeah, I don't think we've gotten to that stage yet. I think we're at the stage of… because you can't really build any of that out until it becomes legal. So this is like the first stage of getting to that point, you know.
Daniel: Are you guys volunteers?
Canvasser 1: Yep.
Canvasser 2: Yes
[The claim that the canvassers were volunteers is not true. The conversation ended relatively abruptly after that and Daniel wished them a good day and walked away]
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine: firstname.lastname@example.org
New England Veterans for Plant Medicine: email@example.com
Parents for Plant Medicine: firstname.lastname@example.org