It’s been a busy year for lawmakers eager to consider psychedelic drug reform legislation. From Hawaii to California to Maine, elected representatives proposed bills that would allow for the study of psychedelic substances in the treatment of mental health conditions and others that would decriminalize psychedelic drugs at the state level.
The following is a brief roundup of statewide legislation that is either currently under consideration or has been pushed to the following legislative session. This list does not comprehensively include measures that failed to pass or were vetoed. Legislation dealing with broader drug reforms including harm reduction and criminal justice policy will be detailed in a forthcoming article.
One of the most talked-about bills of the 2020-21 legislative session, SB519 in California, would decriminalize possession and use of certain psychedelic drugs. After much controversy as the bill wound its way through the Golden State senate, the bill’s sponsor, San Francisco-based lawmaker Scott Weiner, a Democrat, delayed forward movement on the bill until the next cycle so that Weiner and his allies could pursue “education and member engagement” around the legislation, Wiener told the San Francisco Examiner. That decision came after it became clear not enough lawmakers would elect to move the bill forward.
After a first attempt died in committee in April, Democratic lawmakers in Florida in September submitted a pair of bills, one in the state House and one in the Senate, that would direct the Florida Department of Health, in collaboration with the Board of Medicine, to study the use of “alternative therapies” including the use of MDMA, psilocybin and ketamine in treating mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder as well as other medical conditions including chronic pain and migraines.
In March 2021, the Hawaii state senate approved two resolutions sponsored by Democratic lawmakers that call on state officials to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and to create a plan that would provide “equitable access to the fungi for adult patients,” Marijuana Moment reported. A bill to legalize psilocybin for medical purposes stalled in committee earlier this year.
Republican State Representative Jeff Shipley introduced legislation aimed at removing psilocybin from the state of Iowa’s list of controlled substances in 2019 and 2020 and has introduced similar legislation a third time in 2021. After his 2019 attempt failed, Shipley attached language that would have removed psilocybin from the state’s controlled substances list to a spending bill in 2020. That amendment died on the state house floor, in part because lawmakers disagreed that it was appropriate to tie such a measure to the budgeting process.
Shipley introduced three related pieces of legislation in 2021, two on removing psilocybin from the state’s controlled substances list and one that focuses on the “Right to Try” psilocybin for those suffering from terminal illness.
In February 2021, Shipley told Marijuana Moment, “I wish I had more time to devote to the psychedelic sciences.” The first-term Iowa Representative has, however, denounced much of public health science amid the Covid-19 pandemic, vocally opposing public health and safety measures including the Covid-19 vaccine. He has protested vaccine mandates, going so far as to call a California lawmaker who supports vaccines “a medical rapist” and in June 2020 said “the [Covid-19] virus isn’t killing anybody” during a speech at the Iowa state capitol in Des Moines.
Seven Bay State lawmakers (all Democrats) have cosponsored a bill that would establish a statewide taskforce to study “equitable access to psychedelic plants.” The bill, introduced in March 2021, has yet to advance. Four municipalities in Massachusetts have passed measures centered around psychedelic reform this year.
State Senator Donna Bailey, a Democrat, introduced legislation in April that would establish a regulatory framework for healthcare professionals to provide psilocybin products to clients in Maine. The bill remains in committee. The Maine State Senate defeated a measure in July that would have decriminalized all drugs and made unlawful possession of scheduled drugs a civil, not criminal penalty.
Two Democratic Michigan state senators introduced legislation in September 2021 that would legalize possession and cultivation of plant- and fungus-related psychedelics. The bill would not legalize commercial production and sales. Local legislators in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor have also taken action on psychedelic reform measures this year, with Grand Rapids passing a resolution in September 2021 calling for decriminalization of psychedelics. Lawmakers in Ann Arbor had already relegated the enforcement of laws related to prohibited psychedelics to a low priority and declared September 2021 Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
Democratic Governor Phil Murphy in February signed a bill passed by both state houses that reclassified possession of up to an ounce of psychedelic-containing mushrooms to a disorderly persons offense and subject to up to a $1,000 fine, up to six months in jail or both. Previously, the same offense carried 3 to 5 year imprisonment and up to a $15,000 fine.
Two bills remain in the Assembly Health Committee in the Empire State following their introduction by Democratic lawmaker Linda Rosenthal in March and June 2021 respectively. The first, a bill that would decriminalize psilocybin, is similar to legislation Rosenthal introduced last session, with the 2021 version including psilocin in the decriminalization language. Democrat Jo Anne Simon is a cosponsor of that bill. The second piece of legislation would require the state of New York establish a research institute to study the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs and to issue recommendations on their value in treating mental health conditions including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Belief in scientific studies and research is the basis of a new bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature this month, despite some of its bipartisan cosponsors opposing Covid-19 vaccination requirements for colleges and universities, a recommendation initially proposed by public health experts across the country and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bill, introduced by Republican Tracy Pennycuick, would allow university studies of psilocybin as it relates to the treatment of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Pennycuick, an Army veteran, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, “I have PTSD, so it interests me. Not every treatment works for every veteran. So you have to be always leaning forward into treatment.”
Two bills that would decriminalize minor possession of drugs and the chemical compounds in some plants and fungi remain in committees in the Green Mountain State. The first, cosponsored by 10 Democratic lawmakers, would decriminalise “certain chemical compounds found in plants and fungi that are commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.” It was referred to the state Committee on Judiciary in February 2021. The second bill, cosponsored by 14 Democratic lawmakers, is a broader decriminalization bill that would establish a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board within the Vermont Department of Health to determine a benchmark for personal use dosage and supply for certain drugs, including some psychedelics, with the aim of reducing criminalization for personal use. That legislation has been with the Committee on Human Services since March 2021.
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