WASHINGTON — District of Columbia residents have voted “yes” on Initiative 81, making possession and use of certain psychedelic plants, including magic mushrooms, the lowest enforcement priority for police, according to the Associated Press. The initiative will now go to the DC Council for review, before being reviewed by Congress to officially make it law. Congress weighs in on D.C. referendums due to the inclusion of federal land in the District.
Initiative 81, formally known as the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, calls upon the city’s attorney general and the U.S. Attorney for D.C. to “cease prosecution of residents of the District of Columbia for these activities.”
Psychedelics are classified by the federal government as Schedule 1 drugs, which means these substances have no currently accepted medical use in the United States. But ongoing medical research indicates the potential of psychedelics to treat a range of mental illnesses.
The battle to get Initiative 81 on D.C. ballots was spearheaded by spokesperson Melissa Lavasani, who said she knows firsthand how much of a difference access to these mushrooms can make. She suffered with depression after both of her pregnancies. After she had her son in 2017, she said she tried every home remedy, and nothing worked.
"I wasn’t feeling the things that new moms should feel," Lavasani said. "So, I developed anxiety, I had panic attacks once a week, I was hearing voices…I was desperate for a solution, and I would have tried anything, because it was life or death for me."
Then, she said she listened to a Joe Rogan podcast where renowned mycologist Paul Stamets was discussing the benefits and uses of psilocybin mushrooms, and this career-focused, mother-of-two, who had never before tried psychedelics, decided to sample a mushroom.
It made all the difference. But Lavasani feared what would happen if it became known she was taking an illegal substance.
In an effort to alleviate those fears and help others struggling with similar situations, she joined the group Decriminalize Nature DC, who submitted the ballot initiative to the DC Board of Elections on Dec. 20, 2019. The board approved the initiative in February, placing it on the ballot in the 2020 general election.
D.C.’s Democratic Party passed a resolution in support of Initiative 81 in early October.
“Following a robust discussion between members of our organization and representatives from the Campaign to Decriminalize Nature DC, our Party passed a resolution in support of Initiative 81,” DC Democratic Party Chairman Charles Wilson said. “This initiative can help people struggling from mental illness and other afflictions who have found healing through entheogenic medicines, while moving us closer to ending the War on Drugs.”
The next step forward, according to DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, is to have the initiative approved by Congress.
“The initiative has to be certified by the Board of Elections, which we expect but that'll be the end of the month, and then the initiative is transmitted to Congress," Mendelson said. "If it passes that review period, which I expect it will, it then becomes law.”
Lavasani said she doesn't anticipate any congressional issues to arise and is confident it will pass the 30-day review in both the House and Senate. She said she expects it to become law sometime next year.
“I think that now that the elections passed and it got approved, now this opens the door for us to have conversations with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Attorney General," she said. "Because there is language in our initiative that states that the attorney general shall not prosecute anybody that is caught."
Those who opposed the initiative said the question goes too far, and that more research needs to be done on the subject to help reduce the risk of traumatic episodes before passing such an initiative.
“I hope the voters of D.C. will exercise their common sense and reject this initiative,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) said in a statement in August.
As is the case with any drugs, magic mushrooms affect individuals differently. While Lavasani said it stopped her from hearing voices and feeling severely depressed, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation lists the following as possible side-effects:
- euphoria and wellbeing
- change in consciousness, mood, thought and perception (commonly called a trip)
- dilation of pupils
- perceptual changes, such as visual and auditory hallucinations
- stomach discomfort and nausea
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- increased body temperature
- breathing quickly
- facial flushes, sweating and chills.
Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor have all also passed some form of decriminalized psychedelic plants.