DC votes to decriminalize psychedelic drugs


Helen Ehrlich, Editor-In-Chief

Voters in Washington DC voted heavily in favor of Initiative 81, which decriminalizes the possession, growth, distribution and transport of entheogenic plants and fungi. It also mandates that any current prosecutions involving the drugs must immediately halt. Over 76% of voters cast ballots in support of the initiative.


Initiative 81 does not make the drugs legal, but it means that entheogenic plants and fungi must be the  lowest priority of the Metropolitan Police Department. This includes drugs such as “magic mushrooms” and DMT. This only applies to residents who are age 18 or older.


The measure must be approved by DC’s City Council. The city recently elected further left members, but approval from the public does not guarantee passage through the Council. It could also be blocked by the federal government, which may complicate DC’s fight for statehood in the Senate. If Congress does not vote against the measure within 30 days of it being presented, Initiative 81 will go into effect. Mayor Muriel Bowser stated that she will be voting against Initiative 81.


Psychedelics are considered a Schedule 1 drug, but debates have arisen in recent years regarding their danger to the public and disproportionate incarceration rates. This pushes back against the War on Drugs years, which had a clear presence in DC. Cannabis was fully legalized in DC in 2015 but it cannot be purchased in the city. Congress shot down DC’s legalization attempt in 1998.


Decriminalize Nature D.C. led the charge, which was endorsed by DC’s Democratic Party. It was financially supported by donors such as the New Approach PAC as well as Adam Eidinger, who supported DC’s legalization of cannabis. Decriminalize Nature D.C. gathered supporters around the city, using methods that included paying upwards of $10 for their signature, in order to get on the ballot. “We have changed the game here. We have shifted this dialogue. We are trying to normalize mental health,” said city employee Melissa Lavasani, who brought the initiative forward.


Opposition was less organized than the efforts in favor. DC Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt told the Washington Post it would be “very difficult” for her to support Initiative 81.


Initiative 81 follows the state of Oregon, the city of Denver, Colorado and the cities of Oakland and Santa Cruz, California. Decriminalization also happened as a number of states’ citizens voted in favor of decriminalizing and legalizing drugs on Election Day.