Standing before the House Appropriations Committee, Maryland Congressional Representative Andy Harris, wearing a mask, hunched forward to speak into the microphone and announced he would withdraw his amendment opposing Initiative 81 (the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020), which would decriminalize psychedelics in the District of Columbia. Harris began by arguing for his amendment explaining that there is “limited data that psilocybin may be useful in some [medical] circumstances” but that utility did not apply to other psychedelics.
“What my amendment does, it doesn’t say Initiative 81 is negated. But it only reduces the enforcement when it’s used under the recommendation of a physician,” Harris said adding that physician recommendations could only happen for psilocybin. “You can go ahead with Initiative 81 but it’s only for medical use.”
House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley was the first to tell Harris why he was wrong. Quigley stressed that namely, Initiative 81 has not yet been approved to be on the ballot so opposing it with an amendment before it is approved for a vote is preemptive. But if it is approved, that leaves it up to the D.C.’s voters, not Harris, Quigley explained.
“If the District residents want to make mushrooms a lower priority and focus limited law enforcement resources on other issues, that is their prerogative,” Quigley said. “Congress has allowed jurisdictions in California and Colorado to exercise their sovereign right to set policy on mushrooms, the District of Columbia too should be allowed to use their local funds to support their local needs and their priorities…it is the people of the District of Columbia who should make the decision an weigh this difficult pros and cons.”
Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum also explained that she would oppose the Initiative herself but stressed that it has not yet been approved to go on the ballot.
“We’re not even allowing the District of Columbia to move forward and decide whether or not this is a good idea,” McCollum said. “I oppose the amendment.”
Ultimately, Harris, the well-known enemy of commercial cannabis in Washington D.C. and a dedicated “ReOpen-er”, withdrew the amendment. In other words, he would not attempt to do to psychedelics what he did to cannabis in the District in 2014.
A press release from Decriminalize Nature D.C., who have been advocating for Initiative 81, reads, “Decriminalize Nature DC is pleased that Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) withdrew his undemocratic amendment attempting to derail Initiative 81 due to lack of committee support.”
The press release also quoted Decriminalize Nature D.C.s Melissa Lavasani. “Our campaign is about helping DC residents by enacting common sense reforms to police priorities that ensure that those using healing plant and fungi medicines are not law enforcement targets,” Lavasani said. “Today, our campaign is focused on certifying petitions before the Board of Elections so that DC constituents can vote on this critical issue in November.”
On July 6, Decriminalize Nature D.C. filed 36,249 signatures (they only needed 24,836 signatures) to the Board of Elections who will next determine if the signatures are valid and if the signatures are valid, Initiative 81 will be put up for a vote in November.
Marijuana Moment speculated that Harris might later, “reintroduce his amendment…on the House floor” or may “work to get a senator to tack it onto that chamber’s version of the legislation, which deals with funding for D.C.” As drug reform advocates already know, it is wise not to put anything past Harris.
For now, the debate continues on Twitter where Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton tweeted, upon hearing that Harris had pulled the amendment, “Another DC appropriations victory: Regular #homerule offender @RepAndyHarrisMD tried to bar DC from using its own funds to enact a proposed ballot initiative on entheogenic plants + fungi or any similar law, but then withdrew it before the committee could defeat it.”
Harris responded with, “The process of educating Congress about how dangerous this initiative is [sic] has begun. DC has enough of a drug abuse problem without becoming the drug capital of the country. ‘Warrioronthehill’ should be fighting AGAINST drug use, not FOR it.”
Illustration by Kathy Wyche