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A Psilocybin Therapy Bill is Making Headway in New York

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A Psilocybin Therapy Bill is Making Headway in New York

As the New York State’s April 1 budget deadline approaches, one of the psychedelics bills under consideration is making notable headway towards receiving a vote in the General Assembly and State Senate. 

Assemblymember Pat Burke’s Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Bill was introduced on February 2, and has since received co-sponsorship from twenty-four Democrats and three Republicans in the Assembly, Joe DeStefano, Scott Bendett, and David McDonough. The bill continues to gain critical bipartisan support, with Mr. Burke’s team confirming that his Republican co-sponsors reached out to them to underwrite the proposal. 

The bill was introduced two months after Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal’s bill, which would legalize possession of certain organic psychedelic compounds, including psilocybin, ibogaine, and DMT. 

Burke’s formation of the medical pilot model has recently gained support from Amy Paulin, the new chair of the State Health Committee, as well as the crucial matching bill in the state senate, which New York state requires to put new proposals up for a vote. For many key New York State advocates, decriminalization is the long term objective of psychedelic policy reform. Still, they see Burke’s proposed medical model as an integral step in that direction that addresses the urgent public need for alternative mental health treatment, and are optimistic about its chances of success. 

A Case for a Medical Model 

The bill sets up a medical pathway for qualifying patients to access psilocybin-assisted therapies ahead of anticipated FDA approval in 2025. However, it does not specify what PAT protocol will be used, and no longer explicitly includes MDMA among the proposed programs, as it did in previous versions. 

The bill removed certain language explicitly including MDMA in every level of the proposal at the suggestion of Brett Waters of Reason for Hope, says Alyssa Zbock, Burke’s chief of staff. 

“We kept MDMA strategically in a few different spots throughout the bill, most notably the assisted therapy fund,” says Zbock. “Mainly to ensure that even if insurance companies don’t approve of MDMA as the medicine, people that want to use this breakthrough therapy will still have access.” A proposed $5 million “Psilocybin and MDMA Assisted Therapy” grant, included in the state’s budget, would provide funding for veterans, retired first responders, and those without the means to pay for the treatment. A recent analysis of psychedelic-assisted therapy protocols estimated the cost of a treatment protocol with three MDMA-assisted sessions to be $11,500. 

Psilocybin mushrooms used in the program will be administered under the supervision of the department of Agriculture and Markets. The Department of Environmental Conservation will also set standards for restrictions on the use of pesticides during cultivation, as well as the pathway for in-state universities to participate in growing the mushrooms and take part in the therapy pilot and research programs. 

A Psychedelic Policy Advisory Board

The proposal would set up a psychedelic policy advisory board, consisting of thirteen voting members, at least one of which “must be from a federally-recognized Native American Tribe.” The board, comprising experts in therapy and pharmacology, will be responsible for safety standards, industry best practices, codes of professional conduct, education, training, and examination for facilitators, production, and long term strategic plans for service. The board would meet monthly and submit an audit of the program’s impact and outcomes after its first year.

Burke’s team feels the bill is poised for success because they have carefully followed the therapeutic models being implemented in Colorado and Oregon to inform their approach. 

“We use everything going on in Colorado and Oregon as a kind of reference point,” says Zbock. “It’s been a huge help in creating the structure of the bill, and showing us what potential problems might come with it.” The challenges of licensing facilitators in Oregon has reaffirmed Mr. Burke’s decision to leave out language that would dictate what credentials are required of PAT facilitators. Instead, the legislation would entrust the advisory board with regulating standards and best practices, she says. 

After a deliberately slow process through many drafts and meetings with advocates, the bill addresses what the political landscape is ready for regarding PAT, says Zbock. “A lot of the time we get questions like ‘why now?’’ Our opinion is, ‘why not?’” 

Is New York Ready for Decriminalization? 

The new chair of the State Health Committee, Amy Paulin, is co-sponsoring Burke’s bill. It has also received support in the state Senate from Democrat Nathalia Fernandez, who represents parts of the Bronx, Pelham, and Westchester counties. 

“I am a strong proponent of any legislation that increases the resources available to our veterans and those living with mental health difficulties,” said Republican Assemblymember Scott Bendett, another co-sponsor. He added that “far more research needs to be done before New York should even consider decriminalizing or legalizing recreational use of these substances.”

For some, like Rosenthal, decriminalization is the end goal. Still, others remain skeptical of the decrim approach’s potential for legislative success. 

“I think [the Burke bill] is a much easier bill to pass because it’s a regulated framework, and we’re starting to see some cross aisle movement, which is something to say considering we’re discussing hallucinogens,” says Robert Rush, Chair of the New York City Bar Association Sub-Committee on Psychedelic Law and general co-consul to NYMHA. “It’s a lot easier to support something that’s clearly defined.” 

Rush notes that the fears that surrounded cannabis decriminalization, such as increased underage usage and impaired driving, aren’t applicable within the “structured framework” of a medical setting. 

In a recent interview with Lucid News, one of the decrim bill’s advocates expressed concerns that Rosenthal’s proposal may not pass during this session.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has already signed a trigger bill that would deschedule psilocybin and MDMA if federal laws change. 

Next Steps

Currently, the medical pilot bill is awaiting review by the committee of health and human services, which is still in the midst of negotiating its new budget. Should it pass the committee, Burke’s bill will be up for a vote in June. There has been no discussion of a public hearing, but Burke hopes to see members of the Veteran’s Mental Health Leadership Coalition in Albany to lobby for a hearing to address the bill. 

The proposal “wouldn’t have made it nearly this far without the help of our veterans, first responders, indigenous leaders, and the other advocates working on this issue,” Burke said. “We need them again now to make sure that the governor has a chance to review this bill, and that New Yorkers gain access to these treatments as quickly as possible.”

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