A bill to create a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin is advancing in the Hawaii Senate with the support of the governor’s office.
SB 1454, which was introduced at the end of January by Sen. Ron Kouchi (D), unanimously passed the Senate Health Committee on Monday.
If enacted, the legislation would direct a new therapeutic psilocybin working group to examine the “medicinal and therapeutic effects of psilocybin to treat conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and end-of-life psychological distress.”
Its members would also examine the effectiveness of such therapies in Oregon and Colorado, where medicinal psilocybin has been recently legalized, and develop a long-term plan to “ensure the safe availability and accessibility of affordable, therapeutic psilocybin and psilocybin-based products for adults twenty-one years of age or older.”
For Monday’s hearing, the committee received more that 100 pages of written testimony and heard from several speakers, including representatives of state agencies, veterans and drug policy advocacy groups and mental healthcare practitioners. People living with mental health disorders also shared their experiences with psychedelic-assisted therapies.
The overwhelming majority of those who testified expressed strong support for the creation of the working group and acknowledged the growing research on the efficacy of therapeutic psilocybin and other psychedelics in improving mental health.
Tia Hartsock, executive director of the governor’s Office of Wellness & Resilience (OWR), testified in “strong support” of creating the working group.
“As negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to show up in our daily lives, promising interventions for mental health disorders should be included in conversations relating to trauma,” she said.
“To make informed decisions on how we should address and resource attention on complex social issues like mental health disorders, research needs to be examined,” she added. “The OWR supports the purpose of SB 1454 to establish a working group to provide recommendations on their findings on the potential benefits of the therapeutic use of psilocybin.”
Nikos Leverenz, board president for The Drug Policy Forum Of Hawaii, said that “Hawaii should endeavor to work more proactively in creating a climate that is conducive to allowing qualified medical professionals to use psilocybin as a therapeutic tool for those who could benefit from its supervised use.”
Speaking on behalf of veterans, Wyly Gray, executive director of Veterans of War, recounted his struggle with PTSD and suicidal ideation after returning home from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2000 and 2008. He credited plant medicines for his ability to find “any measure of true healing.”
“l can attest without hesitation that plant medicines are both safe and effective means by which to address and recover from intense psychological and physical trauma,” Wyly said. “Veterans of War sees firsthand the healing potential of these ancient medicines day in and day out, and we advocate strongly for their decriminalization on behalf of a nation of veterans suffering from the after-effects of war, as a group, we deserve a safe and effectiv e path towards recovery; as a group, we simply want to come home. This is bigger than the failed War on Drugs; lives are lost every day.”
Before approving the legislation, the panel adopted an amendment that makes it so an official from the Office of Wellness and Resiliency would serve as chair of the working group, instead of the director of the Department of Health. The amendment also contains a placeholder for the appropriation of funds to support the group’s activities as well as technical and non-substantive changes.
SB 1454, along with its companion in the House introduced by Rep. Amy Peruso (D), is just one of several psychedelics bills introduced in Hawaii this session.
A concurrent resolution in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Stanley Chang (D), would request a “Medicinal Psilocybin and Psilocin Working Group” to study local, state and federal laws on the entheogens, existing scientific literature on the therapeutic value of the fungi and the possible medical protocol for administering psilocybin.
Rep. Adrian Tam (D) introduced legislation that would establish a “beneficial treatments advisory council” that would be required to “review, evaluate, and recommend new medicinal treatments for mental health” such as psilocybin and MDMA.
This measure nearly mirrors the Senate bill from Kouchi, except that the advisory council would need to explore the laws, science and possible therapeutic value of MDMA in addition to psilocybin. There’s also a Senate version of this legislation from Sen. Chris Lee (D).
After years of struggle under former Gov. Dave Ige (D), Hawaii drug policy reform advocates seem more hopeful about the tenure of newly-elected Gov. Josh Green (D), who supports marijuana legalization.
Several states are exploring decriminalizing psychedelics, investigating their efficacy and establishing regulations for medicines and therapies around a wide range of substances.
New Hampshire was considering a bill to remove DMT from the state’s list of controlled substances, thereby eliminating criminal penalties for it, but the bill died in a key House committee.
Another New Hampshire Republican has filed a bill to legalize possession and use of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD for adults 21 and older.
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New York lawmakers have before them a bill to legalize psilocybin therapy for a narrow set of qualifying conditions. It proposes psilocybin treatments conducted by a certified facilitator in a clinical setting, or at their home if they’re unable to travel. Patients and facilitators would receive protections against state-level prosecution, and a $5 million Psilocybin Assisted Therapy (PAT) grant program would be established to “provide veterans, first responders, retired first responders, and low income individuals with the funding necessary to receive psilocybin and/or MDMA assisted therapy.” The bill would also establish a pilot program for psilocybin cultivation.
New York Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D) pre-filed legislation in January to legalize certain psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine for adults 21 and older.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) also recently signed a bill to immediately reschedule or deschedule Schedule I drugs like MDMA and psilocybin if they’re reclassified under federal law.
The Utah Senate is expecting legislation to legalize psilocybin for people with serious mental health conditions. The bill is said to allow people with PTSD, anxiety or depression to receive the psychedelic treatment in clinical settings with a professional’s recommendation.
In West Virginia, Rep. Kayla Young (D) filed a bill that would remove psilocybin, marijuana and THC from the state’s list of controlled substances. In Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oklahoma recently filed bills would revise laws governing entheogenic plants and fungi.
Virginia lawmakers are advancing a bill to reschedule psilocybin and create a board to study therapeutic access. Legislators there also considered, but rejected, a bill last month that would have allowed people with serious mental health conditions to possess and use psilocybin with a doctor’s recommendation.
Meanwhile, a Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced legislation to provide therapeutic access to psilocybin for people with serious mental health conditions, and Washington State senators from both parties have unveiled a revised bill to legalize psilocybin services for adults.
More psychedelics reform efforts are underway in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey and Oregon.
Oregon voters approved a historic ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use in 2020, and Colorado voters passed a broad psychedelics legalization and psilocybin services measure during the November election.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal in December concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
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