October 29, 2020 at 9:58 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. LGBTQ groups neutral on ‘psychedelic plant’ ballot measure
Initiative 81, gay news, Washington Blade
Council member Brooke Pinto and challenger Randy Downs are among the local officials supporting Initiative 81.

Similar to political activists and organizations in general, some local LGBTQ activists are supporting D.C.’s ballot Initiative 81, which calls for the partial decriminalization of psychedelic plants used as medicines, with almost no one actively opposing the initiative.

No known local LGBTQ organization or health center, including Whitman-Walker Health and Us Helping Us, which provide health related services for the LGBTQ community, have taken a position one way or the other on the ballot measure.

However, several LGBTQ activists, including Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Kent Boese and gay D.C. Council candidates Randy Downs and Alexander Padro, have come out in support of Initiative 81.

Joining them in expressing support for the initiative are D.C. Council members Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), who is being challenged in the Nov. 3 election by Downs; Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large); and David Grosso (I-At-Large). The D.C. Democratic Party has also officially endorsed the initiative. D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) announced she opposes the initiative.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she would vote against Initiative 81, but she is not campaigning against it.

Supporters of the initiative, led by the group Decrim Nature D.C., argue that plant based psychotropic medicines have been shown to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and addiction.

The official title of the initiative is the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020. Most dictionaries define “ethneogenic” as a reference to a psychoactive or hallucinogenic substance often derived from plants or fungi and sometimes used in religious, spiritual, or ritualistic contexts.

Initiative 81 calls for making “the investigation and arrest of adults for non-commercial planting, cultivating, purchasing , transporting, distributing, possessing, and/or engaging in practices with entheogenic plants and fungi among the Metropolitan Police Department’s lowest law enforcement priorities.”

The measure also calls on the city to “codify that the people of the District of Columbia call upon the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to cease prosecution of residents of the District of Columbia for these activities.”

The Blade approached Whitman-Walker Health to ask whether any of its medical experts have an opinion on whether entheogenic plant medicines would have a beneficial impact on LGBTQ people to a greater or lesser degree than the general public.

“We do not have a position on this and don’t think it’s in our area of expertise to offer meaningful insight,” said Whitman-Walker spokesperson Jewel Addy.

DeMarc Hickson, executive director of Us Helping Us, said his organization has not taken an official position on the initiative. He said he would reach out to the group’s clinical staff to get their thoughts on the potential benefits of the plant-based medicines that the initiative addresses.

Joe Izzo, a longtime mental health counselor at Whitman-Walker Health who retired from his position there last year, said he has looked into the subject and found that studies show plant-based psychotropic medicines can be beneficial to some people. 

“Research being conducted at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine validates the efficacy of entheogenic plants as useful treatment for intractable conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic and endogenous depression, and death anxiety for the terminally ill,” Izzo told the Blade.

He said he has voted for Initiative 81 in the city’s early voting process but he thinks the initiative should go a step further by legalizing entheogenic medicines under a controlled substances category for use with guidance by trained mental health professionals.

“Without proper supervision and guidance the use of these substances could result in serious harm to oneself or others as they divorce the person’s mind from outward reality while under their effects,” Izzo said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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