WASHINGTON – If at 2am you caught President Donald Trump accusing Democrats of “fraud,” as he falsely claimed victory, you likely thought he was on psilocybin (which his press office has neither denied nor confirmed by press time). But there may be something in DC’s air, because just about a mile south of the White House, a group of Washington residents were on psychedelics.
They were on the National Mall – in the open expanse between the White House and Washington Monument – celebrating the overwhelming passage of a ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin, i.e. the mind-altering component in ‘shrooms.’
When The News Station called one of the advocates who worked tirelessly to help solidify support from more than 75 percent of voters who endorsed the subtly revolutionary measure, he was confused about why we wanted to chat so late.
“About what?” he asked, before his phone was passed to someone a little more lucid.
While shrooms will now surely become more commonly used for recreational purposes here, they technically weren’t legalized or even decriminalized. But on Tuesday, voters here did resoundingly vote to de-prioritize them. As in: Local police officers have now been ordered – by the voters themselves – to make enforcement of psilocybin laws their lowest priority (which in effect seems to decriminalize it).
That cell phone eventually ended up in the hand of a sober Melissa Lavasani. She’s no hippy. In fact, she’s a mother with two graduate degrees who works for DC government.
Last night, she didn’t need substances. She was surrounded by history after her ballot measure – technically Initiative 81 – soared to its new place in history.
“It’s surreal,” Lavasani gushed. “I feel really proud of us for the success, like, I am – I’m amazed.”
You could feel her entire being smile, even as she struggled for words to express the elation. Psilocybin is her (irregular) medicine, and she wants others in need to have access to it too. After all, she credits it with saving her life.
“I took psychedelics to heal myself, and it worked. And I was in such a desperate place in my life. I wanted to take my own life and, you know, this was my Hail Mary, this was my last shot at my life,” Lavasani says.
“And it worked for me, and the healing was so profound that I recognized the laws needed to change around this.”Melissa Lavasani
Thanks in large part to her, the law in, arguably, America’s most powerful city has been overhauled, and that’s expected to send ripples throughout the nation and likely the globe. That’s partly because it wasn’t upended by a bunch of hippies, even if David Bronner – the current executive of his family’s soap empire, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, who is no doctor – flooded DC with more than $675,000 to pass it.
The campaign here focused on mental health and wellness, which is why Lavasani was the natural fit to be the face of the initiative.
“We’re not actually talking about the counterculture at all. We’re talking about the therapeutic, the healing benefits of psychedelic plant medicine, and everyone can relate to the issues that I went through and what my experience was,” Lavasani says.
And it wasn’t easy, even with Bronner’s cash. For one, the coronavirus pandemic hit this spring and “threw us for a loop,” Lavasani recounts.
So, these advocates got scrappy, because what other choice did they have during a pandemic?
“There’s no events that we could show up at. It was more just like being on the phone and sending lots of emails to people, just explaining what we’re trying to accomplish,” Lavasani says. “It feels amazing that it worked.”
Even if Bronner is a DC outsider, Lavasani is a local. So she was able to connect with many voters just based upon Washington’s exorbitant cost of living alone. She knows people here often pop pharmaceuticals because that’s the only option when “an hours worth of therapy in DC can cost up to $400, and that’s just not accessible,” she says.
After psilocybin saved her from the brink, she wanted to stop carrying the secret, because she realized there’s no shame in medicine. If anything, she saw her medicine has the potential to give life to others.
Now that it passed here in Washington, her passion for that psychedelic medicine seems likely to also keep untold numbers of DC residents out of prison.
“This is not something underground. You know, people are using these substances and healing themselves, and you should feel safe while doing that,” Lavasani says. “No one should feel like, you know, the cops are going to bang down their door at any moment, because they’re growing psilocybin mushrooms because none – none – of the other therapies were working for them.”