Results showed the measure had the approval of about 76 percent of voters.
The D.C. Board of Elections allowed Initiative 81, also known as the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, on the ballot amid a $700,000 campaign in which proponents collected 25,000 signatures during the pandemic. The board’s decision came amid a nationwide debate about policing and the medical value of psychedelic drugs, which supporters say are beneficial in treating trauma.
The nation’s capital became at least the fifth jurisdiction in the nation with some form of decriminalized psychedelics, joining Denver; Oakland, Calif.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Ann Arbor, Mich., where the city council approved decriminalization in September. Oregon voters were casting ballots Tuesday on two related statewide initiatives.
The D.C. version was introduced by Melissa Lavasani, a city government employee who used microdoses of psychedelic mushrooms to help her recover from postpartum depression. Speaking Tuesday night to supporters of the measure, she said she hopes it’s a step toward normalizing plant medicine for the purpose of healing.
“We have changed the game here. We have shifted this dialogue,” she said. “We are trying to normalize mental health.”
The ballot initiative goes to the D.C. Council for review. If the council doesn’t overturn the measure — as it did in 2018 with an initiative that would have mandated a $15-per-hour minimum wage for tipped workers — it will be sent to Congress for review. If Congress doesn’t object within 30 legislative days — as it did when it blocked D.C.’s attempt to legalize marijuana in 1998 — the initiative would go into effect.
Lindsey Walton, a spokeswoman for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), said in an email he “does not have a strong position on the initiative either way” and did not plan to block it if it passed.
In February, the D.C. Board of Elections approved Initiative 81 after supporters argued that ibogaine, mescaline and the hallucinogen psilocybin, among other chemicals, help people recover from post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said late last month that she would vote against the initiative.
“It seems like the issue is not an organically D.C.-created initiative, and I don’t typically favor those. I won’t be voting for it,” she said.
In September, D.C. Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said it would be “very difficult” for her to support the use of psychedelic substances without further information about their long-term side effects.
“People talk about things being plant-based as if that makes them automatically healthy,” she said, noting that opioids and tobacco also come from plants.
Supporters of the campaign, funded by a political action committee supported by, among others, natural soap company Dr. Bronner’s, plastered D.C. with signs and paid more than 150 people as much as $10 per name to collect the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot. One-third of the signatures were collected virtually or by mail — a first for a D.C. ballot initiative — after the D.C. Council allowed remote collection in May amid the pandemic.
Supporters suspended their collection of signatures when Bowser declared a public health emergency in March. They turned to remote collection when the D.C. Council allowed signatures to be returned electronically and by mail in May.
While there was little visible campaigning against the ballot measure, D.C. voters weighed in on the proposal at the polls.
Lizzy Hampton, a 20-year-old student at George Washington University, voted early at School Without Walls High School last week. She said possessing such substances shouldn’t result in criminal penalties.
“People should have access to medicinal substances recreationally,” she said.
Darlene Frederick, a 70-year-old retiree who voted at the Columbia Heights Community Center, had a different view.
“I voted no because I thought it was silly,” she said. “Hallucinogenic drugs? Maybe I’m old.”
Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.