WASHINGTON — Congress took a break from the coronavirus pandemic, mass unemployment and surging violent crime on Wednesday — to debate the status of magic mushrooms in the nation’s capitol.
“We certainly — I would hope — don’t want to be known as the drug capital of the world,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee.
Harris proposed forbidding Washington, DC, from implementing a voter initiative to make natural hallucinogens the lowest law enforcement priority. Initiative organizers say they submitted enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.
Fellow Republicans backed Harris, whose amendment would bar natural psychedelics used without a doctor’s recommendation as well as driving under the influence.
“We all can agree that policies that increase the availability of psychedelic drugs in the nation’s capital — that’s dangerous,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.)
“As the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, it should be a place where Americans come to see their government at work, for history and to go to a Braves-Nats game. It shouldn’t be a destination for illegal drugs,” Graves said.
House Democrats who recently voted to make DC a state rallied against Harris.
“If the district’s residents want to make mushrooms a lower priority and focus limited law enforcement resources on other issues, that is their prerogative,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).
Harris ultimately withdrew his amendment, saying it could be addressed later if DC residents approve the initiative.
The DC initiative’s organizers were pleasantly surprised by what they heard from Harris — whose plan to interfere with their initiative was first reported by The Post.
“Even Harris acknowledges the irrefutable science behind some of these psychedelics,” said initiative proposer Melissa Lavasani, who says she used shrooms to treat postpartum depression.
“In his testimony, he mentioned research around psilocybin as promising for potential therapeutic use. I believe Initiative 81 will be the first step in reforming how this country treats mental health issues and we hope the amendment being withdrawn is a sign of more expansive research on psychedelics.”
Denver last year led the charge with a ballot measure to make magic mushrooms the lowest law enforcement priority — a step that also was pursued for marijuana before the state legalized the drug.
Oakland, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, California, followed.
Harris argued that the DC initiative is broader than the Denver version because it includes more natural hallucinogens, including mescaline from cacti. “I think the District of Columbia is different from other cities because we have people coming in from all over the country,” Harris added.
Harris is reviled by many local drug reform activists because of his still-active budget provision that blocks DC from regulating recreational marijuana sales, which 65 percent of city voters backed in 2014.
In a statement, Harris said the fight’s not over on psychedelics.
“This is a new issue to the committee,” Harris said. “Between now and the meeting of the conference committee this fall, the issue of whether this will be on the ballot will be resolved. Fortunately, in that time, members will also have time to learn more about this complicated medical issue.”
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