Republican Congressman Andy Harris is at it again. Almost immediately after it was announced that Decriminalize Nature D.C. succeeded in gathering enough signatures to get the decriminalization of psychedelics on the ballot, the well-known enemy to cannabis reform declared that he would try to stop Initiative 81 (the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020).
“This is a bald-faced attempt to just make these very serious, very potent, very dangerous—both short-term and long-term—hallucinogenic drugs broadly available,” Harris told The New York Post. “Public health has to be maintained. We know, of course, once you make it a very low enforcement level and encourage prosecutors not to prosecute it, what would prevent people from using hallucinogens, getting behind the wheel of a car and killing people?”
As The Outlaw Report noted back in May, Harris, who is an anesthesiologist, tends to pick and choose when he is concerned about “public health.” Harris was part of Maryland’s ReOpen protests where he challenged Governor Larry Hogan’s relatively careful approach to social distancing and stay-at-home orders. And of course, Harris was responsible for preventing a commercial adult-use cannabis industry from being implemented in Washington, D.C., even after D.C. voters overwhelmingly voted for it, leaving the District in the complicated, gray market it has been in since 2014. Harris, who opposed cannabis and has been dismissive of its medicinal qualities, is now arguing that it is different to decriminalize psychedelics than it is to legalize cannabis—which he also opposed.
“Some Democrats may say, ‘D.C. residents, if this is what they want, this is what they should get,’” Harris told the Post. “I think there’s probably a lot of Democrats who draw a very distinct line between potent hallucinogens and marijuana. And whereas the majority may support recreational use of marijuana, I doubt the majority supports the broad use of these potent hallucinogens.”
Decriminalize Nature D.C., who was behind Initiative 81, released a poll that showed that the majority of D.C. residents did support decriminalizing psychedelics. Around 800 people were polled by phone and their answers revealed that with little additional information, 51% of those polled support the initiative while 27% were opposed and 22% were undecided. The numbers of those undecided and opposed go down after a “plain-language explanation,” with 60% in support, 27% opposed, and 13% undecided.
The poll was just one part of Decriminalize Nature D.C.’s ambitious and creative attempt to get this on the ballot during a pandemic which also included a “micro-scale petition” in response to social distancing concerns during COVID-19 and later, the mailing of Initiative 81 petition to every household in D.C. And it would seem, their diligent efforts worked: On July 6, Decriminalize Nature D.C. filed 36,249 signatures to the Board of Elections—significantly more than they needed to submit to get Initiative 81 on the ballot (they only needed five percent of D.C.’s population which would be 24,836 signatures). Next, the Board of Elections has to determine if the signatures are valid and if they are, Initiative 81 will be put up for a vote.
Adam Eidinger, who has criticized Harris because of his anti-cannabis policies and is treasurer for Decriminalize Nature D.C., had some harsh—and for those who are for sensible and progressive drug policy, heartening—words for Harris.
“Andy Harris needs to shut up—you can quote me on that. He needs to listen to what the people are saying and then make the policy. And he has a history of being a big mouth who doesn’t listen,” Eidinger told the Post. “Andy Harris is riding our coattails. He is trying to get in the news media as a hater of drug policy reform and nothing more. He has no viable way of stopping this ballot initiative.”
Illustration by Kathy Wyche