A congressman says that he expects that Colorado voters will make history again next week by passing a ballot initiative to legalize the possession of certain psychedelics and create psilocybin therapy centers in the state.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment late last month that he “absolutely” sees parallels between the movements to reform laws around psychedelics and marijuana. And in much the same way that Colorado was one of the first states to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2012, he predicts “you’re going to see passage” of Proposition 122 this year.
The congressman is well known for his marijuana reform advocacy on Capitol Hill, serving as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. But he’s also become one of the most vocal members on psychedelics policy in recent years as his home state of Oregon has led the way in legalizing psilocybin services access and more broadly decriminalizing drug possession.
Asked whether he feels whether the country is witnessing a repeat of the marijuana reform movement with psychedelics, he said “absolutely—it’s part of the same process.”
“This is the pattern that we’ve seen,” Blumenauer said. “Oregon and Colorado had been sort of kindred spirits in a number of these areas. But it’s not just Oregon and Colorado: this is a movement that is taking hold in countries around the world, and there’s interest across the United States.”
To be sure, the local psychedelics decriminalization movement has exploded throughout the country since Denver became the first city in the U.S. where voters approved a 2019 measure to make laws against psilocybin among the lowest law enforcement priorities. And reform has reached state legislatures of diverging political makeups, as well as Congress.
“This is the approach that we’ve taken in Oregon, to have very careful therapeutic use that’s developed,” he said, referencing the state’s 2020 vote to legalize licensed psilocybin services, which is actively being implemented. “This has tremendous potential for dealing with addiction—dealing with problems that people engage as they approach end of life.”
“This is a very promising set of therapies. It appears to work. It’s low-risk. It’s something that people feel comfortable with,” the congressman said. “And I think that you’re going to see passage in Colorado…and I think this trend is going to continue.”
Voter approval certainly isn’t guaranteed, of course. Polling on the novel initiative has been mixed, with one recent survey commissioned by the campaign showing strong public support and another signaling that it could be soundly defeated.
Even Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), who voiced support for psychedelics decriminalization and touted the therapeutic potential of entheogenic substances said at a recent gubernatorial debate that he’s still undecided and needs to read up on the ballot measure.
The governor’s reluctance to endorse the measure at this stage also comes as some psychedelics reform advocates are actively opposing the initiative, including one led by some activists who pushed for an alternative legalization measure that didn’t make the ballot.
Here’s what the Natural Medicine Health Act initiative would accomplish if approved by voters:
Possession, use, cultivation and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn would be legalized for adults 21 and older, without an explicit possession limit. There would be no recreational sales component.
Under the proposal, the Department of Regulatory Agencies would be responsible for developing rules for a therapeutic psychedelics program where adults 21 and older could visit a licensed healing center to receive treatment under the guidance of a trained facilitator.
There would be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin and psilocyn would be permitted for therapeutic use at licensed healing centers until June 2026. After that point, regulators could decide whether to also permit regulated therapeutic use of DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.
A new 15-member Natural Medicine Advisory Board would be responsible for making recommendations on adding substances to the program, and the Department of Regulatory Agencies could then authorize those recommended additions.
The advisory board’s membership would specifically include people who have experience with psychedelic medicine in a scientific and religious context.
People who have completed their sentence for a conviction related to an offense made legal under the act would be able to petition the courts for record sealing. If there’s no objection from the district attorney, the court would need to automatically clear that record.
Back in Congress, Blumenauer also recently spoke about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics during a congressional committee markup, saying the substances hold “real potential” as alternative mental health therapies with “less impact” than traditional pharmaceuticals.
He suggested that psychedelics policy should be part of the larger conversation about health care improvements, noting his interest in giving terminally ill patients access to investigative drugs like psilocybin, for example.
At the beginning of this year, Blumenauer led a bipartisan letter requesting that DEA allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution under federal “Right to Try” (RTT) law.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is also pushing to promote access to psychedelics that he says hold therapeutic potential.
In a video posted to Twitter last month, the senator talked about how psychedelics like psilocybin are strictly controlled under federal law as Schedule I drugs, which places “a lot of limitations” on them.
Booker referenced bipartisan legislation that he and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) filed in July to clarify that federal “Right to Try” (RTT) laws give seriously ill patients access to Schedule I drugs, including marijuana and certain psychedelics.
He said that the intent of the bill is to “open up more avenues to take drugs that are now banned and make them accessible, especially for people that are suffering.”
The bill—a House companion version of which is being sponsored by Blumenauer—would make a technical amendment to the text of the existing statute, but the primary purpose is to clarify that RTT policy as signed into law by former President Donald Trump already means that patients with terminal health conditions can obtain and use investigational drugs that have undergone clinical trials, even if they’re Schedule I controlled substances.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriations leaders have included language in recent spending legislation that urges federal agencies to continue supporting research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
In July, the House voted in favor of two psychedelics-related amendments to a defense bill, including one that would require a study to investigate psilocybin and MDMA as alternatives to opioids for military service members and another that would authorize the defense secretary to provide grants for studies into several psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD.
But while advocates are encouraged by these incremental developments amid the national psychedelics decriminalization movement, some lawmakers feel that Congress isn’t keeping pace with the public and the science.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment recently that he’s done his research and believes that natural plants and fungi like psilocybin can be a therapeutic “game changer,” but he said that it’s “embarrassing” how slow other federal lawmakers have been to evolve on the issue.
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Federal health officials have taken note of the increased adult use of certain entheogenic substances. As National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow put it earlier this year, the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently said that it is actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for prescription use.
That came in response to letters from bipartisan congressional lawmakers, state legislators and military veterans, who implored the HHS secretary to to consider establishing an “interagency taskforce on the proper use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy.”
For its part, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said last month that it want to more than double the amount of marijuana that can be legally manufactured for research in 2023—and it’s also seeking to significantly increase the quota for the production of psychedelics like psilocyn, LSD and mescaline.
A top Canadian health official who heads up the country’s efforts to combat addiction recently visited Colorado, Oregon and Washington State to learn about their experiences implementing drug policy reform like broad decriminalization and harm reduction—meeting with the governor of Oregon and psychedelics activists, among others, on a week-long tour.