People, psychedelics, politics & power.
You’d hope with ethneogens it would different but no these people can’t help themselves and of course, the A types will win out leaving the rest of us picking up the pieces.
Lucid News reports
While the national leadership of the activist group Decriminalize Nature has supported dozens of local chapters to push for the reform of laws governing psychedelics, some of those chapters are now breaking away due to disagreements over guiding principles and conflicts with board members. As some groups and individuals shed their association with Decriminalize Nature, others are stepping into new relationships with the organization as DN’s goals evolve.
When Decriminalize Nature was founded in early 2019 during the early days of the psychedelic decriminalization movement, it took a stridently open source approach to organizing. Local chapters were encouraged to pursue their own strategies and policies within a big tent that, according to organizers, came to include 100 active grassroots initiatives across the country.
Fast forward to August 2021, when the national board of Decriminalize Nature (DN) released a new set of guidelines for its local chapters, asserting that the national organization owns the trademark for its name and can assess whether local groups are adhering to its core principles.
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Some of those principles are controversial, particularly DN’s insistence on the decriminalization of all psychedelic plants, including peyote, despite the protests of the Native American Church which believes that such a move could push the cactus towards extinction. Also of concern to some activists is DN’s rejection of all possession limits in laws governing psychedelic plants, a position which has put the organization at odds with other activists behind legislative efforts to decriminalize psychedelics in California and elsewhere.
Some previously-affiliated groups, and leading activists within them, say that these positions impacted their decision to break away from DN. They also argue that DN is violating some of its own core principles including its stated commitment to transparency, open-source information sharing, and decentralization of leadership, which the group describes as “not seeking to consolidate power and control among few people but instead training and supporting others to emerge as leaders in the movement.” Detractors say their experiences with DN do not reflect those principles.
Some formerly affiliated DN groups and members say that control over selecting leaders for local chapters was taken away from them and national DN board members instead appointed outsiders. “It’s not open source like it claims in the handbook,” says Tatiana Q, a member of a local DN chapter in Seattle which has broken away from the national organization.
Detractors also cite DN’s alleged lack of flexibility in support of incremental decriminalization, the national board’s position on peyote, and its historic lack of support for decriminalization of all controlled substances as factors in their departure.
In addition, some former DN chapter members also allege that DN’s national board has moved in to take control of, or take credit for, local campaigns, including decriminalization efforts in Massachusetts and Seattle, Washington.
Diversity of Views as a Movement Expands
DN guidelines for its chapters are not currently published publicly and instead are shared with DN chapters by email. The guidelines were made available to Lucid News by a member of a local chapter.
According to current DN national board members, the guidelines are intended to clarify the organization’s guiding principles and mission and also ensure that groups using the DN name are aligned with its mission.
In the period leading up to the guidelines’ release in August 2021, several local DN chapters took actions to distance themselves from the national network. Some, like the Washington D.C. chapter, say they took this step because the chapter had succeeded in passing psychedelic decriminalization initiatives in their cities and because decriminalization of just psychedelic plants was too narrow a focus for the work members are pursuing now.
Local DN chapters working in the Washington state cities of Seattle and Tacoma, and the Massachusetts towns of Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton, and Northampton, have broken away from the national DN organization entirely – or have seen key organizers leave their chapters to establish or join other activist organizations. Some of these organizers cited miscommunication and misalignment with DN co-founders Carlos Plazola and Larry Norris as contributing to their decision to distance themselves from the organization.
The tensions between DN and its local chapters have surfaced during a period when the prevailing sentiment within the broader decriminalization movement for psychedelics is positive and forward-looking with growing support for local and statewide legislation and ballot measures.
Some activist groups are forming new alliances with DN. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), which recently announced a newly-formed partnership with DN, have found points of alignment and are forging ahead in collaboration with the organization. “There are a lot of DN supporters in SSDP,” says Jason Ortiz, the organization’s executive director, “and a lot of chapters work closely with DN chapters. It seems like a really natural alliance.”
Some activists declined to comment for this article and expressed discomfort about publicly criticizing DN because they don’t want to detract from what they see as the movement’s growing momentum. Others consider the realignment of DN local chapters as part of a healthy diversification of campaign strategies that reflects the movement’s growing maturity.
National Control over Local DN Chapters
While the national board of DN claims trademark ownership over the name of the organization, board members say that anyone can start a Decriminalize Nature chapter. Since 2020, DN’s website has included resources for organizers of local chapters, including downloadable packets of logos and an organizer’s handbook last updated in September 2020. To obtain the packet, and the right to use the DN logo, users submit their contact information and click a checkbox agreeing to use brand elements in alignment with the Decriminalize Nature Logo and Branding Agreement, which is included on the same page.
While DN’s branding assets are readily available, the guidelines circulated to DN chapters point to a tightening of identity, branding, and positions. Julie Barron, a founder of Michigan Psychedelic Society, Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor (DNA2) and Decriminalize Nature Michigan (DN MI), joined DN’s national board in 2021. Barron says that she and other members of the board helped develop the new guidelines.
“I was part of DN when it truly was open source, when the idea really was to take the DN name and run with it,” says Barron. She adds that DN “was an amazing resource and support,” providing coaching that supported them as they forged a path toward decrim that fit their city.
“But some organizations don’t align with the DN ethos,” explains Barron. “We have basic principles that we believe in. Organizations need to align with those to use the name.”