A congressman from Maryland who threatened to derail a Washington, D.C. initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms and other psychedelics has withdrawn the attempt, although he says the opposition may be renewed if the measure is approved at the polls in November. 

Last week, Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris said that he would try to use Congress’ power over the Washington, D.C. budget to block Initiative 81, a proposed ballot measure that would make the enforcement of laws prohibiting psilocybin mushrooms and other entheogenic plants and fungi the lowest law enforcement priority for police in the nation’s capital. The threat came only one day after Decriminalize Nature D.C., the group campaigning for the initiative, turned in what organizers said were thousands more signatures than necessary to qualify for the ballot.

“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 said in an interview with the New York Post at the time.

Harris, who represents Maryland’s Eastern Shore, said that he hoped to force a vote on a rider to a financial services bill that would leverage Congress’ control over the Washington, D.C. budget to block the initiative. When the bill was considered by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Harris spared no hyperbole in calling on his fellow lawmakers to support his effort.

“We certainly — I would hope — don’t want to be known as the drug capital of the world,” he said.

Harris received support from his Republican colleagues on the committee, who also argued against decriminalization.

“We all can agree that policies that increase the availability of psychedelic drugs in the nation’s capital — that’s dangerous,” said Republican Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia.

“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,” he added.

Democrats Support Initiative Process

But Democrats, who have a majority in the House of Representatives and its committees and voted last month to grant statehood to the nation’s capital, said that the will of the people should prevail.

“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, a Democrat from Illinois.

Melissa Lavasani, who used psilocybin mushrooms to treat postpartum depression and is now the chairwoman of Decriminalize Nature D.C., noted that scientific evidence supports the therapeutic use of entheogenic plants and fungi.

“Even Harris acknowledges the irrefutable science behind some of these psychedelics,” she said.

“In his testimony, he mentioned research around psilocybin as promising for potential therapeutic use,” Lavasani added. “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.”

After failing to gain the support of a majority of the House committee, Harris withdrew his amendment to block the initiative. But he vowed to renew his opposition if Initiative 81 succeeds at the ballot box this November.

“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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