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D.C. Initiative 81- Decriminalizing Entheogens

On the 2020 ballot measures for D.C. voters, D.C. Initiative 81 discussed the topic of decriminalizing entheogens, which are commonly referred to as psychedelics. If this policy were to be enacted, it would “support police treating the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession and use of entheogenic plants and fungi among the lowest law enforcement priorities”.Entheogens are characterized as plants and fungi that “contain ibogaine, dimethyltryptamine, mescaline, psilocybin, or psilocin”,which are all psychoactive substances. In addition, this policy would also “cease prosecution of residents of the District of Columbia for these activities”. This does not mean however, that the use of entheogens will be legalized. Entheogens are currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that their abuse liability is high and they cannot be used medically. This initiative would simply make the policing and prosecution of these drugs a lower priority for the D.C. police department.

Black Americans and Latinos have always been disproportionally arrested and convicted for crimes in comparison to white Americans. Not only this, but they are the ones who are continuously labeled as deviant by the media, despite the fact that white Americans make up a majority of the crimes committed in the U.S. The War on Drugs was designed to target black Americans and Latinos to put them in jail as a means of “maintaining social control” due to their alleged high rates of crime and delinquency, which a lot of the times is falsely reinforced by the media. I think this ballot initiative is long overdue, as the amount of individuals, especially blacks and Latinos, that are convicted of minor drug crimes and then subjected to a lifetime of consequences, is staggeringly high. The criminal justice system has made it so that once you are labeled as a criminal or felon, you face thousands of restrictions as a result. To name a few, one may be denied the right to vote, be denied from employment, housing, and healthcare, and may have their license suspended. These collateral consequences can cause a lifetime of struggle and make it almost impossible for criminals to get back on their feet and integrate back into society.

Placing the policing of entheogens at a lower priority can hopefully help reduce the amount of individuals who are arrested and incarcerated for offenses involving these types of drugs. Entheogens in particular have actually proven to be medically beneficial and could pose as viable treatments for those with psychiatric and substance use disorders. A study that was conducted in 2014, involved the first clinical trial in over four decades which used psilocybin as a treatment for tobacco addiction.The results of this study were quite successful, yielding an abstinence rate of 80% among addicts in just six months. In addition to aiding in addiction, psychedelics/hallucinogenics have also shown the potential to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.That being said, I find that the arrests and prosecutions made for the use, possession, and distribution of entheogenic drugs for non-recreational use are unjust given the low severity of the crime itself and because of the potential benefits that they pose on psychiatric and substance use disorders.

Overall, I believe that the initiative to decriminalize entheogens has the potential to be beneficial to some extent. I believe that individuals who are convicted of a drug offense involving these substances do not deserve to be sentenced for as long as they do and more importantly, do not deserve to face a lifetime of consequences for it. While the initiative does not solve this issue completely, it points us toward drug policy reform which is a step in the right direction.

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