Psychedelic Reform Wins in DC, Oregon Send a Message to Congress

    Marijuana had a runaway night on November 3, but so too did psychedelics. Voters approved two measures in Washington, DC and Oregon to dramatically reform laws related to psychedelic drugs.

     

    Medical Psilocybin in Oregon

    Oregon voters approved Measure 109 to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes. At publication time, with under 82 percent of votes counted, M-109 was projected to win, with 56 percent in favor and 44 percent against. By legalizing medical psilocybin, Oregon achieved another first in the nation—on top of the simultaneous success of Measure 110, which decriminalizes all drugs

    How will M-109 work? Essentially, the state will approve licensed doctors and therapists to open psilocybin therapy clinics. Patients seeking psilocybin treatment will be able to receive it. There are no specific qualifying conditions, but it is understood that therapists will focus on mental health conditions like depression, PTSD and anxiety, for which research has shown great promise.

    The state will now need to create regulations governing this new industry. That will help clarify who can get treated, where treatment is available, which conditions qualify and, crucially, how much it might cost. Questions remain over whether private health insurance plans, Medicare or Medicaid will cover psilocybin treatment, and if so, to what extent. And will patients need to register with the state first, and be charged fees to do so? Reasonable and equitable access is important if M-109’s potential is to be realized.

     

    Psychedelic Decriminalization in DC

    Washington, DC voters approved Initiative 81 to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi. With 100 percent of votes counted, the measure passed with 76 percent support. I-81 decriminalizes personal use, possession and growing of plants and fungi including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca containing DMT, peyote and San Pedro cacti containing mescaline, and iboga/ibogaine.

    DC becomes the first city on the East Coast to implement this kind of reform, and the first city in the nation to decriminalize natural psychedelics by popular vote. The nation’s capital now joins the ranks of Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor, which have each enacted similar reforms through local legislatures in the past 18 months.

    DC’s reform intends to end arrests and prosecution related to personal use and possession of these substances. The intention is also to de-stigmatize their medicinal, therapeutic and spiritual uses. The text of I-81 does not explicitly prevent the city’s police from spending funds on arrests for these substances, however—but it does make them the “lowest law enforcement priority.”

    DC’s unique political status means it is possible that Congress could interfere with this reform, as it has with past cannabis reforms in the district. The new law is now entering a 30-day approval period, giving Congress the chance to block it. This is thought to be unlikely, however, with Democrats currently controling the House.

    Something else to watch is how prosecutions are handled. Criminal prosecutions in DC are not handled by the city’s attorney, but by the federal US Attorney’s Office. Will that office respect the new reform? And could a change in the White House—and thus, a new US Attorney—affect this?

     

    The Context of These Victories

    It’s significant that both Oregon and DC have previously approved medical and full marijuana legalization. “The work that’s been done to normalize medical and adult-use marijuana, drug decriminalization, and criminal justice reform more broadly have all contributed to these psychedelic reforms,” Ismail Ali, a policy counsel for psychedelic research group MAPS, told Filter.

    Ali is cautiously optimistic about the impact of both M-109 and I-81. In Oregon, he explained, legislators will need to make sure they regulate psilocybin therapists and treatment centers well enough to protect patients’ safety and privacy.

    At the same time, they have to make the industry open enough so it isn’t dominated by small number of large companies—an area where the cannabis industry has largely failed. Ali also worries that I-81 in DC may prove to be more of a symbolic victory, lacking the legal muscle to transform criminal justice outcomes in the city.

    “It is clear that drug policy reform is a multi-partisan issue that bridges different political ideologies.”

    Nonetheless, “Tuesday’s results were really encouraging, drug policy reform totally swept,” he said. “What’s slightly more complex is despite how we see this movement as fighting against racism and oppression, that’s not totally clear from the rest of the races and ballot initiatives of the night. But it is clear that drug policy reform is a multi-partisan issue that bridges different political ideologies.”

    Other advocates are glad to see a political mandate emerging. “It was a tremendous victory for decriminalize nature last night in DC,” Carlos Plazola, chairman of Decriminalize Nature, told Filter. His organization helps support local psychedelic initiatives like that in DC. “Seventy-six percent support sends a very clear message to everyone that this is a very viable approach.”

    Plazola explained how in Oregon’s Measure 109, earlier language that decriminalized use and possession of mushrooms was later removed. He suggests that the change was made to make M-109 more palatable for voters; of course, it passed by a much smaller margin than DC’s reform. But the success of Oregon’s Measure 110 has significantly decriminalized all substances.

    Of criminalization, Plazola said, “We’ve completely disproven that approach. Now what’s most exciting is any new initiatives—be it clinical, medical, or decriminalizing all drugs—will see the benefit of decriminalizing nature.”

    “The overwhelming support sends a strong message to Congress.”

    As for the potential for DC police to continue arresting people for psychedelics, Plazola cited how in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the county prosecutor has already pledged to honor that city’s reform. “The high voter support in DC sends a message to the police that it’s not useful to enforce against people carrying entheogenic plants and fungi,” he said.

    Plazola is also confident that I-81 will withstand Congressional chicanery. “The overwhelming support sends a strong message to Congress,” he said. “We look forward to some great dialogue in Congress on this topic. I’m glad they can now learn about these issues.”

     


    Photo by Caleb Brown at Mushrooom Observer via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

    • Alexander Lekhtman

      Alexander’s journalism covers the policy, science and culture of drugs. His journey began as an activist with Students for Sensible Drug Policy at New York University, where he served as president, helping organize marijuana legalization and “Ban the Box” campaigns. He was also an organizer for the 2017 New York City Cannabis Parade. His drug journalism career began in 2016, and his work has been published in High Times, Leafly, Merry Jane, AlterNet, Psymposia and Psychedelic Times. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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