D.C. Voters Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms But Face Likelihood of Congressional Veto

November 6, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
A bag of 1.5 grams of psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. (Photo via wikipedia commons)

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia voters continued their tolerance toward psychedelic plant-based drugs this week by decriminalizing the use of magic mushrooms.

Unlike the four other cities that decriminalized use of the drug, Washington, D.C., faces the risk of a congressional veto.

Supporters of Initiative 81, also known as the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, say the mushrooms can help relieve anxiety and depression.

They worked under the name of Decriminalize Nature DC while they collected signatures to put Initiative 81 on the ballot at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Warnings from mental health experts that depression is taking a heavy toll on society during the quarantine appeared to help their efforts.

The donors and supporters included Dr. Bronner’s natural soap company and New Approach PAC, a political action committee that advocates for reform of marijuana laws. They contributed to a campaign that collected $700,000 and 25,000 signatures on a petition to get the issue put on the ballot.

The New Approach executive director is Graham Boyd, who told The Well News, “The D.C. measure sends an important message in our nation’s capital: arrest for using plant medicines is no longer tolerable. Instead, the nation is moving steadily toward a future in which healing, rather than punishment, is the frame for approaching these medicines.”

Critics of the measure say it could create a psychological addiction that leads to use of other more potent drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. They include D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Bowser said at a press conference last month, “It seems like the issue is not an organically D.C.-created initiative, and I don’t typically favor those. I won’t be voting for it.”

The initiative now goes to the D.C. Council for a vote of approval, where it is expected to pass. Congress has the final authority.

If Congress does not object to Initiative 81 within 30 legislative days after D.C. Council approval, it would take effect.

Recent history indicates the controversy associated with magic mushrooms could produce the kind of opposition in Congress that angers local officials.

In 1998, Congress blocked a resolution approved by D.C. voters to legalize marijuana. Initiative 81 creates a risk of another veto because it goes beyond mushrooms to include a variety of plant-based psychedelic drugs, such as ibogaine, mescaline and the hallucinogen psilocybin.

This dispute also risks renewing sentiment in Washington for the District of Columbia to seek statehood.

Some residents, D.C. Council members and congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., complain that unlike all other jurisdictions in the United States, they do not have final authority over local issues. They say the congressional oversight by the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District infringes on their self-government.

Initiative 81 originally was proposed by Melissa Lavasani, a city government employee who said microdoses of psychedelic mushrooms helped her recover from postpartum depression. 

“These results show that D.C. residents are eager to both support those benefiting from natural psychedelics and help end the war on drugs,” Lavasani said.

She described the voter approval as a sign of the times that is likely to be repeated in other places.

“By passing Initiative 81 and effectively decriminalizing natural psychedelics, D.C. voters have helped change the national conversation on plant and fungi medicines that can help treat depression, anxiety and addiction,” Lavasani said. “As the first jurisdiction on the East Coast to pass a decriminalization measure, we hope that Initiative 81 will inspire lawmakers and activists to push forward similar, common sense drug policy reforms.” 

The ballot measure places prosecution of persons who use and sell the plant-based psychedelic substances “among the Metropolitan Police Department’s lowest law enforcement priorities.” It passed by a 76% majority of voters.

Other cities that decriminalized magic mushrooms are Denver, Colo.; Oakland, Calif.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Ann Arbor, Mich.

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