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Psilocybin Therapies Attract Support in Illinois Legislature

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Psilocybin Therapies Attract Support in Illinois Legislature

A coalition behind Illinois’ proposed CURE Act is proposing the statewide legalization of psilocybin and psilocybin therapy sparked by collaboration between a state lawmaker and a local Psychedelic Society.

Under the CURE Act, “an Advisory Board would be established within the Department of Public Health for the purpose of advising and making recommendations regarding the provision of psilocybin and psilocybin services.” The legislation, which is currently in the Rules Committee, would also deschedule psilocybin from the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, establish the Psilocybin Control and Regulation Fund, and establish harm reduction training programs for First Responders. 

The language of the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens (CURE) Act emerged through Entheo IL, a grassroots coalition engaged by State Representative La Shawn K. Ford. In Illinois, where there is no ballot initiative process, any psychedelic policy reform must necessarily be championed by the legislature. Ford noted in an interview with Lucid News that “if people are really willing to listen, I think we will do well with this issue. If people want to continue down the path of being scared, then that’s going to be a problem.”

Ford grew curious about bringing these reforms to Illinois after a constituent drew his attention to the potential impact of psychedelic therapy on mental and physical health. After hearing about benefits from “experts across the country, from veterans and people that have experienced the therapy, it’s almost incontestable about this type of therapy – if it’s done properly,” Ford said.

In a rarely seen move among elected officials, Ford reached out to his local Illinois Psychedelic Society chapter in the spring of 2022 to gain insight from local experts. Psychedelic Societies around the country are playing increasingly central roles educating people in their local communities about compounds that shift consciousness. Jean Lacy, Executive Director of the Illinois Psychedelic Society, called in Vilmarie Fraguada Narloch for support. Fraguada Narloch is a licensed psychologist and co-founder of Sana Healing Collective in Chicago, a holistic mental health clinic that offers psychedelic integration support and ketamine-assisted therapy. 

Together they formed a board that founded a nonprofit, Entheo IL, to serve as a container and community to draft policies for developing psilocybin services in Illinois. Offering a Membership program, both individuals and organizations can donate to participate in additional events, educational offerings, and lobby days. According to Ford, the Illinois Psychedelic Society and Entheo IL have “added value to the issue, endorsed it, and helped to shape the policy so we can carry it through the state legislature.”

Rep. Ford backs Psilocybin Therapy Access

Representing Illinois’ 8th District since 2007, Ford has been a “champion for drug policy and harm reduction legislation for years,” says Fraguada Narloch in an interview with Lucid News. Ford points out that he follows research on psychedelic-assisted therapies and the science that supports it. “We can’t allow for years of research from reputable institutions to just be ignored,” says Ford. “We definitely have to educate people and dispel the myths. What we have now are a bunch of myths about this, and we want to replace them with the facts.”

Ford’s second legislative proposal for the 2023 session aims to amend the state’s Substance Use Disorder Act. HB 2 would require the Illinois Health Department to establish a new drug intervention license category that would offer harm reduction services, including needle exchange, education about drug adulterant testing, and supervised use facilities. Such efforts are championed by harm reduction advocates but are frequently disrupted by social stigma resulting from decades of drug war propaganda. 

Noting that treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) is “not one-size fits all” approach, Ford further adds that “when you think of psychedelics, which have been proven to help people with opioid use disorder, we want to put that on the table and make it an option for consideration.” 

While the CURE Act specifically outlines an advisory board for the development of a psilocybin therapy model, Fraguada Narloch advised it further requires the board to “review research and evidence on other substances and to make a determination whether to include them in their recommendation”. 

As anticipated, the CURE Act has attracted some opposition. Fraguada Narloch says that once presented in the legislature, the Illinois Family Institute, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Illinois Sheriff’s Association expressed opposition to the legislation. To address this resistance, Ford says it’s important to make clear that a medical model is being proposed, that “we are trying to regulate, to make sure that it’s safe and used in safe settings, and we’re not allowing for recreational use.”

Entheo IL Drafts the CURE Act 

Although Ford initiated the legislation, Fraguada Narloch says the language and intent of the CURE Act was a “grassroots effort through and through.” Neither Fraguada Narloch nor Lacy are lawyers, but rather, advocates and activists with decades of leadership and organizing experience between them.

Lacy first began engaging with drug policy reform efforts through Illinois’ Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act and founded the Illinois Psychedelic Society in 2020. According to the group’s website, she “stands to bridge the gap between the grassroots people engaging in these ancient practices and the clinical professionals eyeing them as state-of-the-art treatment tools.” Lacy says she founded the Illinois Psychedelic Society to build peer support, community, and also to communicate and discuss legislative updates.

In her practice Fraguada Narloch focuses on people who use drugs, a population she notes experiences “a lot of co-occurring mental health issues and often severe trauma.” Her past work and leadership include a stint at Students for Sensible Drug Policy where she served as a board member and Director of Drug Education, as well as the Illinois Harm Reduction & Recovery Coalition.

Drawing on their shared perspective for stakeholder engagement, Fraguada Narloch and Lacy convened a community of drug policy reform advocates from across the state to begin the drafting process. Entheo IL engages a broad and diverse range of advocates, ranging from lawyers and youth advisors to psychedelic medicine nonprofits, like Cluster Busters. The effort is supported by local big-name celebrities, including former Chicago Blackhawks hockey player and founder of psychedelic drug development company Wesana Heath, Daniel Carcillo.

The coalition has also hosted several virtual town hall sessions for the public, as well as with stakeholder groups and their members. According to Fraguada Narloch, they have reached out to leaders from other states that have pursued psychedelic policy reforms, gathering insights that have helped shape a more informed approach to their own proposal for a statewide psilocybin therapy program. 

Ford Hosts CURE Act Town Hall

Following nearly a year of development, the coalition announced in a press release on January 11th that the CURE Act aims to “create safe, legal, and regulated access to natural entheogenic healing, starting with psilocybin.” Ford hosted a Town Hall gathering on March 27th at the University of Chicago that discussed HB1 and the CURE Act. Moderated by Fraguada Narloch, the discussion featured Lacy and a panel of professionals in the field, including impacted advocates. 

According to Illinois’ legislative process, the bill will move through committees and possible amendments over the coming session. At present, HB1 sits in the Illinois House Rules Committee and has not yet been assigned to a House Committee. No hearing date has been set at the time of this writing. 

If the CURE Act does not clear a substantive Senate committee before the legislature adjourns on May 19, 2023, the measure will retain its filing registration as HB1 and carry over through the end of the 103rd General Assembly in May 2024. If the CURE Act clears both the House and Senate, the governor would have 60 days to sign it into law or veto the proposal. If approved, the advisory board would convene in January 2024 and make final recommendations by December 2025.

The possible statewide legalization of psilocybin and psilocybin therapies in Illinois would not change federal law which still prohibits these actions.   

Descheduling Psilocybin and Allowing Psychedelic Therapy Access at Age 18

The CURE Act is similar to other statewide efforts, but Fraguada Narloch notes two distinct differences that set it apart. Under the CURE Act, supervised access to psilocybin therapy would not be limited to those aged 21 and older, but would also include legal adults aged 18-20 years. 

According to Ford, this increased accessibility reflects the science, and treats psilocybin therapy as a form of medicine. Says Ford, “we can’t ignore what we learn from research. More should be done to see if it’s something we should open to a younger patient for therapy. It’s very likely that it could be helpful for someone 18 or younger, who may already be using medicine and in therapy.”

Additionally, a Good Samaritan policy would be applied for those under 18, leaving them immune from prosecution in the event they seek emergency services while engaging with psilocybin. This effort, adds Fraguada Narloch, especially acknowledges the impacts the war on drugs has systematically had on young people, and subsequently, their families and communities.

Rather than merely instituting a reduction in the criminal offense for possession of psilocybin or psilocin, the CURE Act would also remove these substances from the Illinois Controlled Substances Act entirely and ultimately expunge records for those convicted of specified offenses involving the possession of psilocybin, psilocin, and related paraphernalia. 

Licenses for Psilocybin Sales & Facilitation

Under the CURE Act, the Illinois Department of Health would be required to develop and manage four new license types: manufacturing, testing, facilitator, and service centers. Both the manufacturing and service center licenses would require majority ownership to be Illinois residents until January of 2027, while facilitators would be required to be Illinois residents for two years. Fee schedules and renewals would be determined by the Department of Public Health but would not be permitted to exceed the cost of administration.

Psilocybin service centers would be the sole point of distribution, and no retail sales would be permitted for home use. Onsite sales of psilocybin products used in facilitation would generate a 15% sales tax, which would help fund statewide administrative costs and the implementation of support programs such as harm reduction and unarmed crisis prevention for first responders. Fraguada Narloch noted such programs would add additional support and de-escalation tools to first responders’ training.

The CURE Act would also require a review of additional plant medicines, excluding peyote-derived mescaline, to be included in the final recommendation. According to the proposal, the advisory board would be required to review potential compounds in the context of psychedelic therapy and submit a report that would “make a determination whether to include any in recommendations.”

Such recommendations would not necessarily result in further policy changes. But they would serve to establish pathways toward alternative treatment options and a process for reviewing and implementing evidence-based drug policy reforms. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the correct name for Vilmarie Narloch is Vilmarie Fraguada Narloch and that she is the co-founder of the Sana Healing Collective, not the sole founder. The spelling of Jean Lacey’s name has also been corrected to Jean Lacy. 

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