A House committee in Washington State has amended and approved a psilocybin bill—inserting some therapeutic access provisions back into the legislation after the Senate had stripped it down to focus on research only
The amendment, from Rep. Nicole Macri (D), was approved on a voice vote Wednesday by the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. The panel went on to approve the amended bill on a bipartisan 13–4 vote. Three of the panel’s seven Republican members, as well as all ten Democrats, ultimately supported the psilocybin measure.
“The bill as it stands takes very thoughtful steps towards a way that we as a state can consider a regulatory framework,” Macri said before the vote. “I like that the advisory group will come back with recommendations to the legislature next session and that, with this pilot that we have added to it, can gain more insight into the applicability of this service.”
“You know, this bill started out in the Senate in a far more ambitious way,” she added.
SB 5263 was originally introduced by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D) as a measure to allow adults to 21 and older to lawfully use psilocybin in a supervised setting. But those provisions were gutted by a Senate committee in February that approved a hasty substitute bill from another Democrat, Sen. Karen Keiser.
As passed by the Senate earlier this month, the bill was primarily focused on research. It would create a number of bodies tasked generally with reviewing available scientific evidence and regulatory options around psilocybin, then providing recommendations to lawmakers. Critics complained the watered-down measure duplicated existing review efforts and failed to address what they described as an immediate need for safe access.
Macri’s amendment nudges the measure back toward more immediate legal access, at least slightly.
“I thought we heard incredibly compelling testimony during the hearing about the potential benefits of psilocybin services,” she said Wednesday, “particularly as they apply to people who have experienced trauma or depression that is difficult to treat.”
The panel approved two separate amendments from Macri before advancing the bill. The first change adjusts the makeup of a proposed psilocybin advisory board to include two more individuals: a military veteran or veterans’ representative as well as someone who’s a social worker, mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist.
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Macri’s second amendment reinserts into the bill a narrow pathway for some people to access psilocybin legally. It would establish a pilot program administered by the University of Washington that would offer psilocybin therapy services through a Food and Drug Administration-approved pilot program. It would be open to first responders and veterans who are 21 or older and experience PTSD, mood disorders or substance use disorders.
Rep. Joe Schmick (R), the committee’s ranking Republican, was among three GOP members to support the bill. “I feel strongly both ways,” he said before the vote.
“I know that there is a movement in the nation today about studying psychedelics for therapeutic use, and I recognize that that trend is coming,” Schmick said. But he added that he was “a little uncomfortable about going ahead and having a pilot program” before the bill’s planned review sessions are complete.
As passed by the Senate, the bill would establish a psilocybin advisory board within the state Department of Health (DOH) to provide advice and recommendations to DOH, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and regulators at the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). It also would create an interagency work group between those three agencies to provide advice and regulations to the advisory board. Finally, it would direct the state health care authority to establish a psilocybin task force, which would provide a report by December 2023 on topics including clinical information on psilocybin and regulatory structures for therapeutic use.
Despite the legislation leaving the door open for regulated psilocybin access down the road, advocates and policy analysts have said the Senate’s version of the bill basically kicks the can down the road. Many spoke during public comment periods to ask lawmakers to reinsert provisions for legal access.
In comments to Marijuana Moment in February, Mason Marks, a senior fellow and project lead on the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at Harvard Law School, described the Senate bill’s commitment to further study as “the most conservative approach a state can take” to reform.
Anthony Back, a Seattle doctor and professor of medicine at the University of Washington (UW), told a Senate panel during a February hearing that denying legal access to psilocybin carries its own set of health and safety risks. Back is currently leading a UW clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted therapy for doctors and nurses with depression and burnout related to their frontline work on the COVID pandemic.
“I have already heard accounts of desperate clinicians who are seeking underground care,” he told lawmakers, “including a nurse who was sexually assaulted by an underground provider who was unregulated, unlicensed, unaccountable.”
Washington is one of more than a dozen states where lawmakers are pursuing psychedelics reform this session as interest in the science and medical potential of these substances expands.
Hawaii’s Senate and House passed three psychedelics research bills this month, for example, while Missouri lawmakers approved a GOP-led bill in committee to promote research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine.
A New Mexico House committee, meanwhile, passed a measure that would create a state body to study the possibility of launching a psilocybin therapy program for patients with certain mental health conditions who could benefit from using the psychedelic.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
Back in Washington, lawmakers are also advancing legislation to protect job applicants from discrimination over pre-employment cannabis use as well as a measure that would eventually enable the state to engage in interstate cannabis commerce if federal officials allow it.
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