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Washington DC is on track to join over a hundred US cities and states that are fighting to decriminalize natural psychedelics this year.
The district Board of Elections just granted initial approval to a ballot initiative that would let DC voters decide whether to decriminalize plant-based entheogens like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca. The initiative would not specifically legalize these substances, but instead would direct local cops to make psychedelics possession enforcement their lowest priority.
At the Board of Elections meeting on Wednesday, several reform advocates testified about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. “Decriminalization can only bring safety and knowledge around the therapeutic use of substances that are already widely available,” said Jesse Gould, founder of Heroic Hearts Project, according to Marijuana Moment. “It will allow therapists to speak candidly to clients, researchers, and students to pursue areas of study without fear of retribution, and an overall more educated society.”
After hearing the testimony, the board held a brief executive session, and then announced that the measure was approved. The chair of the board noted that their decision to advance the measure was a “really, really close call,” however. This initial approval only acknowledges that the ballot measure would comply with state and federal law. Completely legalizing these Schedule I psychedelics would violate federal law, but directing local police to de-prioritize their enforcement does not.
Now that DC made it past the first hurdle, the elections board must still approve the measure’s title, hold a meeting to gather public input on the proposal, and then publish the official ballot language in the DC Register. After this, a 10-day challenge period will begin, and the board must then hold another meeting to consider whether to approve the final ballot language. If approved, organizers must still collect 25,000 valid signatures from registered voters within the next 180 days.
Advocates hope the initiative will demonstrate to the city council exactly how much public support exists for psychedelics reform. “It’s kind of like, ‘hey if you guys aren’t going to do this, we’re going to just pursue the ballot initiative and we’re going to have a vote and it’s going to pass,’” said Decriminalize Nature DC spokesperson Melissa Lavasani to Marijuana Moment.
DC’s psychedelic reform group is part of Decriminalize Nature, a larger collective of advocates working to decriminalize natural psychedelics all across the country. The Oakland chapter of this organization successfully pushed their city to decriminalize all natural psychedelics last year, and is now working to convince the city council to fully legalize regulated psychedelics sales. So far, Denver and Santa Cruz have already passed decriminalization measures or tolerance ordinances, but activists are working on decriminalization efforts in over 100 US cities.
Several states are also considering psychedelics reform on a larger scale. California activists are collecting signatures to put a statewide psilocybin decriminalization measure on this year’s ballot, and Vermont legislators have proposed a bill to decriminalize entheogens. Oregon activists are also fighting to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy this year, with support from natural soap company Dr. Bronner’s. David Bronner, the company’s CEO, has also generously donated another $100,000 to advocate for decriminalization in the nation’s capital.