As of March 15, psychedelic mushrooms are now considered among the lowest law enforcement priorities in the nation’s capital. (Courtesy Photo)

By Sharece Crawford
Special to the AFRO

Could Initiative 81 be the next step to end the war on drugs in America? As of March 15, a new Washington, DC Law requires the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to shift its gears so that plant medicines are now, “among the lowest law enforcement priorities.” No. it does not “legalize” or “decriminalize” the use or sale of psychedelic mushrooms. Yes. You can still be arrested for either. 

Melissa Lavansani, founder of the Entheogenic Plant Fungus Policy Act of 2020 (Initiative 81) and Chairwoman of Decriminalize Nature DC explained why she was willing to risk it all in order to help herself and others feel safe using “magic mushrooms.”

“I am a survivor of the War on Drugs. I used illegal Schedule I substances to cure myself of depression and anxiety. I am lucky to make it out alive,” Lavasani told the AFRO

“Not only was I battling really severe mental health issues, but I was trying to fight the Battle of not getting caught in doing so… It’s  absolutely a war on The Human Condition; a war on human beings.” 

During a news conference on October 26, 2020, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she is not in favor of moving forward with the Initiative that would decriminalize psychoactive drugs such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and other “natural plant medicines” even if voters approve of it on Election Day. 

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

On November 3, 2020, 214,685 D.C. residents voted, ‘YES’ to Initiative 81, while 67,140 voters said NO. 

According to the Board of Elections the new law specifically, “declares that police shall treat the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi among the lowest law enforcement priorities.” 

The Plant Medicine Coalition (PMC) is now pushing the District of Columbia Council to issue guidance to law enforcement about the implications of the current policy and enact additional legislation to provide worker and child protections related to the use of plant- and fungi-based substances.

According to Bruck Law, the psychoactive compounds that residents have voted to decriminalize under Initiative 81 are currently codified as a Schedule I controlled substance.   The Mayor determines if a substance is considered Schedule I by weighing if they have both a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical benefit. 

Typically, drug-related misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine. However, certain circumstances, like the amount of a substance, can increase the charge to a felony. 

D.C. residents are anticipating that the Mayor and Council of the District of Columbia will fully support the Initiative and hold law enforcement accountable. 

“It’s imperative that we decriminalize nature. The war on drugs is over. Now is the time for safe access, research and wellness,” said Jay Mills, a native Washingtonian and business owner. 

So far there has been no direct comment from D.C. Law Enforcement on the Initiative. 

These efforts are too often divorced from racist policing and the hypocrisy of not giving people clean slates who have received prior charges. It’s very infuriating,” said D.C. resident Joanna Blotner.

Many concerned residents share Blotner’s views and have since forced the Mayor and Council to establish a restorative justice and record expungement plan. 

Seven years after District residents voted to decriminalize the possession of cannabis, Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress — a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal marijuana sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Mayor Bowser are facing off over whose cannabis plan is the most equitable. So far Chairman Mendelson’s legislative plan has garnered the most support.

With Mayor Bowser’s, Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. In the plan: a 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, there would be automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions, and the District would use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. 

“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Advocates are doubling down and would like to see Mayor Bowser take the same approach on psychedelic drugs.

“Of course these non-pharma choices should be available and expungement for low level drug use, District resident Yvonne Smith said. 

“I took a risk with my life.  I took a risk with my children’s lives and my husband’s life. I am lucky that the right person or the wrong person didn’t find out that I was using illegal drugs. I am motivated to change the archaic laws in the District of Columbia, we all know the political motive to quiet certain voices in our society down,” Lavasani explained.

Keith Ivey said the push for full decriminalization of  psychedelic mushrooms is related to the fight for D.C. Statehood. “Unfortunately Congressman Andy Harris (R-Maryland) got a rider inserted into D.C. appropriations that prevents it. Otherwise the Initiative would actually be for decriminalizing, the way the movement is doing in some states.”