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Activists Take Steps To Decriminalize Psychedelics In Washington, D.C.

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Psychedelics decriminalization could be coming to the nation’s capital, where advocates recently submitted a ballot initiative to make entheogenic substances among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

In Washington, D.C., members of the group Decriminalize Nature D.C. met at a pizzeria last Wednesday to organize the campaign, which will dually pursue the policy change for substances like psilocybin, ayahuasca, mescaline and ibogaine through the 2020 ballot process and legislatively through the District Council.

The effort is being led by Melissa Lavasani, a mother of two whose personal experience overcoming depression and other mental health challenges by using psychedelics inspired her involvement.

As the team waits to hear from the city’s Board of Elections about whether the measure can proceed, Lavasni said members will focus on raising attention to the issue and demonstrating that there’s public support for psychedelics reform. D.C. is uniquely positioned to advance the conversation nationwide, she told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday.

The following interview with Lavasani has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Marijuana Moment: Tell me about how the Wednesday meeting went.

Melissa Lavasani: I think about 100 people were there. It was a really positive reception. It was my first time talking about it publicly and I was extremely nervous. But we had advocates there, we had regular citizens, we had D.C. government officials and attorneys—there’s a wide variety of people that are interested in this. It was nice to see the diversity, and it’s kind of exciting.

MM: Right now, there’s this ballot initiative. Are you exploring a legislative approach through the Council as well?

ML: Yes, absolutely. This is definitely a two-pronged tactic here. We are talking to Council about potentially getting a bill through that way, legislatively.

But we know that this is kind of a sensitive issue with people, especially in a city like Washington, D.C., where it’s a liberal town but people have some conservative ideas. We want to show that there is public support for this as well, so in a way, we’re educating people with the ballot initiative and getting people on board with this.

But in that, we’re also showing our legislature that there is public support. It’s kind of like, ‘hey if you guys aren’t going to do this, we’re going to just pursue the ballot initiative and we’re going to have a vote and it’s going to pass.’

MM: What makes psychedelics reform in D.C. unique from other cities like Denver and Oakland that have pursued the policy change?

ML: D.C. is special. We’re a city, we’re a state. We kind of function in multiple ways and we don’t have control of the laws we have here, Congress approves everything we do. The Harris rider [which bars D.C. from reducing penalties for Schedule I drugs] really prevents us from actually decriminalizing it. All we’re asking here is that we just make this a lowest priority for law enforcement, and that’s really all we can do right now until we get statehood.

There’s now like 100 cities that are pursuing this and I think we have an opportunity to set a precedent for the country, and I feel like the world is really watching us as well. D.C. gets extra attention and a lot of the focus is on the federal level, especially the executive right now. It would be nice for people to know that there’s people living here and there’s normal people with normal problems. It makes us a little more human. But also, it’s kind of like, we have an opportunity to really change how we view health in general and mental health especially.

MM: Do you anticipate facing legal challenges to the initiative?

ML: I don’t know. We might run into challenges.

Right now we’re at the stage where the Board of Elections is evaluating whether this an appropriate subject, and if they deem this not to be an appropriate section, we will pursue litigation. That’s our first hurdle legally. But we don’t know what we’re going to say.

We have a hearing February 12 and we’ll see what they say then. But really, this is about educating. I think if we do a really good with educating D.C. Council on how effective these treatments are, I think we can get everyone on the same page.

MM: If your group is successful, do you expect it to shift the conversation around psychedelics in Congress?

ML: I hope so. I really hope so. Especially since I am a mom to two little kids, I just feel like we’re shifting the conversation from these are dangerous substances to this is actual practical. We could flip our medical model on its heard here, and this is one step closer to that. Because what we’re doing now doesn’t work.

There are people who are sick and tired and really dying all over the country, and Congress should be looking at this.

MM: I heard you have a meeting with a councilmember coming up. What can you say about that?

ML: I’m meeting with Charles Allen, who is the Ward 6 councilman and his committee is the Judiciary Committee, so this falls under him. I haven’t even broached the topic of this with him. It’s just like get a feel, let’s educate him on my experience and he’s a father to two children as well. I’m hoping this is relatable in a way and we’ll see what he says.

MM: Is David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s providing funding for the campaign like he is for other decriminalization efforts?

ML: He has dedicated around $100,000 for this and he’s committed. He’s focusing on D.C. right now, and this is important to him and he knows there’s potentially a lot of visibility on this issue if this happens in D.C., and that can spread very quickly nationally and influence other jurisdictions into doing this. He really wants this to happen and we have his full support.

MM: Can you share your story about how you ended up getting involved in this reform movement?

ML: My first experience with depression my entire life was after my first daughter was born in 2014. I had a pretty traumatic birth with her—her heart stopped multiple times during labor and I had to have an emergency C-section where my epidural wore off so I felt the entire procedure. I wasn’t sure I was going to bring home a baby at that point so it was one of those crazy moments in your life, but she came out totally fine after a pretty dramatic entrance.

Those kind of experiences, I think you put them away in your head and you power through like moms usually power through things. It affected me in a way that nothing else have affected me before, and I felt completely numb from being a new mom, I wasn’t connecting to my new baby. I saw all the other new moms around me in the community just being in this joyous state that I couldn’t relate to, so I isolated myself and just wouldn’t leave my house for days on end. That experience drastically improved when I went back to work and I got into my routine again.

With my second pregnancy, I developed very painful sciatica, a nerve issue in your spine that causes pain to run up and down your body. I was having chronic pain every day, I was crawling up the stairs, I couldn’t even stand up straight. I developed what’s called antepartum depression, which is depression during pregnancy.

I remember I was at a checkup around five or six months and my normal physician wasn’t in the office. It was a newer physician in the practice, she walked in the door and she simply asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears. The floodgates opened. As soon as I looked up, she was handing me a prescription to antidepressants. I raised some concerns about this and she said, ‘trust me, it’s totally fine. It’s healthy for you, it’s fine for the baby. Just take this until you deliver the baby and then you’ll get off of it.’

I was very hesitant to get on anything at this point. You go from one kid to two kids, your family dynamic is changing. I was worried about how everything was going to affect my career, my marriage, and I thought if I started taking this medication, I was just going to add another issue that I had to deal with down the road, so once again I powered through.

I delivered a healthy baby, but very soon after that, my depression really amped up. I assumed it would just go away on its own like it did the first time, but it absolutely did not. It got a lot worse. I developed anxiety, paranoia, delusions, I was hearing voices—it was pretty crazy—and then at the very peak, I was suicidal. My husband just didn’t know what to do. I went to therapy and I would find excuses to not go, I was refusing antidepressants.

And I had a friend of mine who said just listen to this Joe Rogan podcast with Paul Stamets, who’s now a pretty famous mycologist. His story about curing his stutter with one trip on mushrooms kind of blew my mind. Out of all my years of partying pre-children, I had never dipped into psychedelics before. My sister had one bad mushroom trip and she scared me from any kind of psychedelics. I was skeptical but at that point in time, I knew this was a life-or-death situation for me, so I began microdosing and I had amazing results with it. Within a week or so, a lot of my symptoms were going away and I felt like a normal person again.

I live in Washington, D.C., the federal government is here, I’m educated, I have a very normal job—I was scared. I was scared for losing my job or losing my kids and just losing everything I worked really hard for so the microdosing was a little inconsistent. While it did make me feel better, I could never get past the threshold of feeling cured.

Almost serendipitously, another friend of my had recommended this ayahuasca shaman who she had gone to. I saw a drastic change in here when she did her own ceremony with him, so I was like why not, let’s give it a shot. I did a couple ceremonies with ayahuasca and my entire life turned around. My marriage was improving, I was enjoying life, I was enjoying my children. I actually got a new job in this time period, I was motivated again. It was shocking how effective these things worked for me and how quickly they worked.

On a whim, I was doing research about this stuff because it’s fascinating to me, I was looking at what’s going on in the brain and reading scientific articles that I barely understood and Decrim Denver popped up. I just googled the guy that was starting it, Kevin Matthews, and I reached out to him. I said, you know this is really interesting, nobody is working on this stuff in D.C. and I didn’t know at what capacity I could contribute to this or even if I had the time to do this. I’ve got two little kids and job of my own.

Kevin connected us with a few other people and it didn’t really go anywhere because things got busy in my life, but then Adam Eidinger contacted me because he had contacted Kevin Matthews and he said you have to call Melissa. Adam and I have had numerous conversations and my message resonated with him. He said I think you’re going to be a really important part of this. I’m quote-unquote a normal person with a normal life who’s had experience with this. I kind of break the mold with people who use psychedelics in a way. And I started to open up about my experiences within my own circles and I was getting really positive feedback.

During my depression, I didn’t want to talk about anything with anyone. I felt even worse opening up at that time, but now that I’m out of the cloud, it was almost like people could really relate to this experience whether they use psychedelics or not.

MM: What do you think changed psychologically after you started using psychedelics for treatment?

ML: I think with depression, you start to develop all of these toxic thought patterns and you have a lot of negative self-talk and really bad self-worth. It was almost like immediately—and it sounds kind of nuts—but you can feel the pathways in your brain redirecting you in a different way. It’s almost like your brain is telling you, you don’t get to go in this direction anymore, you’re going this way and this is the right way. That was the most profound thing for me.

It was almost like my body wanted me to be in that depressive state, but my mind was like, no we’re not letting you do this when I was treating myself.

Read the proposed D.C. psychedelics decriminalization ballot initiative text below: 

Entheogenic Plant and Fungu… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Scientists Uncover ‘Strong Relationship’ Between Psychedelic Use And Connection With Nature

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

White House Pressed To Mediate Marijuana Finger-Pointing Between DEA And HHS

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With two federal agencies in disagreement about which of them is responsible for conducting an independent, peer-reviewed study on the medical potential of marijuana, a libertarian think tank is asking the White House to intervene and settle the dispute.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) sent a letter to a division of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Wednesday, asking that it settle a years-long dispute over an alleged violation of the Information Quality Act (IQA) regarding cannabis.

CEI has been pushing both the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to facilitate a peer review of the scientific evidence that’s been used to deny petitions to reschedule marijuana. The organization says federal law mandates such a review, but both agencies have deferred responsibility to one another.

“HHS claims DEA was responsible for IQA compliance because DEA disseminated the evaluation without HHS approval,” the group said. “DEA claims compliance was HHS’s responsibility because the evaluation was performed by HHS.”

The reason CEI is pushing OMB’s Office of Regulatory and Information Policy to resolve the issue is because they say the scientific evidence that HHS provided to DEA that’s served as the justification for maintaining cannabis in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is flawed, failing to account for the numerous therapeutic uses that states have approved under their medical cannabis programs.

A peer review of the data could produce alternative findings that may pave a path for marijuana rescheduling, they say.

“Our view is that both agencies failed in their duties under the act. HHS should have peer reviewed the information before it sent the report to [Food and Drug Administration], given that HHS knew that information would be disseminated and relied upon for regulatory action by FDA as required by statute,” the letter to the White House states. “And DEA should not have published the HHS evaluation without first ensuring that the IQA requirements had been met (arranging for the peer review itself if HHS would not).”

“For the last five years, marijuana has been entirely prohibited based on incorrect scientific information. OMB rules required independent scientific experts to evaluate highly influential scientific information disseminated and relied upon by agencies, and yet that was not done by either agency. President Biden has pledged to ‘follow the science.’ And that is all we have asked for that independent scientific experts be asked to follow the science and report on if they believe the scientific claims of HHS are accurate. We believe once that is done, those scientific experts will agree, along with the vast majority of states and medical organizations, that marijuana does have some medical uses and as such cannot properly be classified as a Schedule I drug.”

To be sure, DEA has taken great stock in HHS’s cannabis evaluation. In its 2016 denial of a petition to consider rescheduling marijuana, it heavily cited the agency’s findings, which “concluded that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision.”

But while a peer review process might help clear up the science on marijuana, some legal experts say that it would not be enough to affect a policy change on cannabis scheduling.

“While peer review would be helpful, it will never get to the core problem with federal marijuana policy,” Shane Pennington, an attorney who’s been involved in lawsuits against DEA over marijuana scheduling, told Marijuana Moment.

“That is because FDA’s scientific evaluation of marijuana…is warped by DEA’s long-standing five-part test for determining whether marijuana has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.,” he said. “That five-part standard warps the science, and it was designed to do so.”

“In short, peer review would be a great first step, but I’m afraid the problem runs far deeper,” he said. “Put differently, CEI’s efforts, while laudable have the pronounced downside of inviting another unelected federal agency into the mix. That is the real problem—the refusal of our elected leaders to make political decisions that affect all of us and the refusal of courts to ‘say what the law is.'”

Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Joint Resolution To Put Marijuana Legalization On Ballot As Activists Launch Separate Campaign

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Ohio Activists Prove Local Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Had Enough Signatures To Make Ballot After Recount

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Ohio marijuana activists have successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.

The Portage County Board of Elections initially told the Sensible Marijuana campaign that they were four signatures short of qualifying the measure to be voted on earlier this month. But activists were skeptical and did their own investigation, ultimately finding that officials incorrectly marked several signatures as invalid.

Mark Brown, a law professor at Capital University, had the idea to reach out to people whose submissions were deemed invalid and have them complete affidavits affirming that they had, in fact, signed a petition in support of placing cannabis reform on the local ballot.

After an independent review, the board announced last month that the campaign had gathered 815 valid signatures, about 10 more than what’s required to secure ballot placement, as The Portager first reported.

The plan at this point is for the elections board to notify the Kent City Council of its findings and see how the local lawmakers want to move forward. They could put the measure before voters at a future election, pass an ordinance legislatively that reflects the Sensible Marijuana initiative or take no action and likely face a legal challenge.

If officials do opt to put the initiative on the ballot, it’s not clear when voters will get the chance to decide on it. Some advocates say it could appear on a May primary ballot, but others think it might need to wait until next November’s general election or perhaps for a separate special election to be held earlier in the year.

Kent was one of several Ohio cities that activists targeted for last month’s election. Voters in seven cities passed the measures, effectively decriminalizing personal marijuana possession.

Twenty-nine jurisdictions across the state have now already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing possession, some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils.

In most of the municipalities where marijuana was on the ballot last month, the text of the proposal simply said, “shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?”

Others were lengthier and spelled out changes to local statutes, specifying that “if the amount of the drug involved is less than two hundred grams, possession of marihuana is a minor misdemeanor drug abuse offense” and that “persons convicted of violating this section shall be fined $0.00.”

If Kent does end up enacting decriminalization—either at the ballot or legislatively—it appears it will face some resistance from law enforcement.

Police Chief Nicholas Shearer took issue with the amount of marijuana that would be decriminalized (up to 200 grams) and said people found to be possessing more than two ounces (57 grams) would likely face trafficking charges.

“Regardless of what decriminalization efforts take place here locally in Kent, possession of marijuana is still a violation of state law, and our officers will still be expected to enforce that state law,” he told The Portager.

Advocates are actively pursuing reform at the state level as well, with one campaign saying they will soon have enough signatures to force the legislature to consider legalizing marijuana.

A lawmaker who is sponsoring a separate reform proposal feels the citizen-led effort could help build momentum for a legislative approach to ending prohibition.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

While it’s only been a few months since Ohio officials cleared the campaign to collect signatures for its measure, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesperson Tom Haren said recently that the initial wave of signature gathering “will be completed probably about the end of November.”

The measure that legislators would then be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.

Separately, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers announced a new bill to legalize cannabis in October. Also, a recent legislative survey found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.

Meanwhile, Ohio senators recently filed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, in part by allowing physicians to recommend marijuana if they “reasonably” believe it could benefit the patient.

Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Joint Resolution To Put Marijuana Legalization On Ballot As Activists Launch Separate Campaign

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Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Joint Resolution To Put Marijuana Legalization On Ballot As Activists Launch Separate Campaign

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A Republican Missouri lawmaker is again making a push to place marijuana legalization on the ballot. But some activists aren’t waiting on the legislature to take action to refer the issue to voters, with one campaign officially launching signature gathering on Wednesday for a separate reform initiative.

Rep. Shamed Dogan (R) on Wednesday pre-filed his joint resolution to place a constitutional amendment on legalization on the 2022 ballot. He introduced a similar proposal last year, but it did not advance.

Under the lawmaker’s plan, adults 21 and older could purchase, possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use. It does not specify allowable amounts.

A 12 percent tax would be imposed on adult-use marijuana sales, while medical cannabis products would be subject to a four percent tax. Revenue would go to a new “Smarter and Safer Missouri Fund” to support veterans services, infrastructure programs like expanding broadband access and drug treatment programs.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The resolution, which also proposes to eliminate and replace the constitutional amendment that established Missouri’s medical cannabis program, states that the reform is in the “interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom.”

Legalization should be enacted so that “legitimate, taxpaying business people, not criminal actors, conduct sales of marijuana,” it continues. “Marijuana sold in this state shall be subject to testing, labeling, and regulation to ensure that consumers are informed and protected.”

If enacted, no police or state funds could be used to assist in the enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition. And the state could no longer allow asset or civil forfeiture for citizens of age who conduct marijuana activities made lawful under the measure.

“Missouri’s law enforcement and its courts shall protect marijuana users and such users’ property without discrimination and with every effort afforded to every citizen of Missouri and our nation,” it continues. There would also be a process to clear the records of people with non-violent marijuana convictions.

Employers would explicitly be allowed to maintain drug-free workplace policies under the measure.

It also says that the “use or possession of marijuana shall in no way impede on a person’s legal right to possess a firearm.”

The resolution also says that the state legalization law “shall supersede any conflicting city, county, or state statutory, local charter, ordinance, or resolution.”

There are some advocates who want to see the legislature take the lead on establishing a regulated marijuana market, but others remain skeptical that will actually happen in the state’s GOP-controlled House and Senate. That’s why there are currently two separate campaigns working to get legalization initiatives on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Legal Missouri 2022 kicked off its campaign on Wednesday, with plans to deploy hundreds of signature gatherers at major cities throughout the state.

“A similar bill from the same sponsor didn’t even receive a committee hearing last year, so if Missouri is going to legalize cannabis, it will have to be done through the citizen-led imitative petition process,” campaign director John Payne told Marijuana Moment, referring to the Dogan resolution. “That’s why Legal Missouri 2022 has built such a broad coalition and will successfully place this question before Missouri voters in 2022.“

“Signature by signature, our statewide coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, cannabis patients and criminal justice reform advocates hears the same message from Missouri voters: it’s past time to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana,” he said separately in a press release.

The group’s measure would also let adults 21 and older buy and cultivate cannabis. A six percent tax would be imposed on marijuana products, with the resulting revenue supporting automatic expungements for prior cannabis convictions, veterans healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.

“Criminal justice reform is a centerpiece of our campaign, which aims to provide a fresh start to tens of thousands of state residents whose criminal records would be wiped clean of low-level marijuana offenses through automatic expungement,” Payne said.

New Approach Missouri, which successfully got a medical cannabis initiative passed by voters in 2018, announced its plans to put the reform proposal on the ballot through its new campaign committee Legal Missouri 2022 earlier this summer.

The organization tried to place the issue of legalization before voters last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that effort.

Despite the health crisis, activists managed to collect 80,000 raw signatures within months, though they needed 160,199 valid signatures to qualify.

A separate campaign, Fair Access Missouri, is separately exploring multiple citizen initiatives with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot next year. Three of the four would create a system of legalized cannabis sales for adults 21 and older, while another would simply amend the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

Aside from recreational marijuana legalization, three of the proposed initiatives would amend the state’s medical cannabis program. Among other changes, they would remove licensing caps, repeal the application scoring system, reduce patient fees and allow patients to access a one-year supply instead of 90 day.

Free Access Missouri, which has ties to the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA), does seem to be living up to its name based on the measures, which contain provisions that appear to specifically promote industry participation by proposing a system without licensing limits.

For 2022, proposals to amend the state Constitution will need 171,592 valid signatures from registered voters.

GOP Congressman And AOC Team Up On Marijuana Bill To Incentivize State-Level Expungements

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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