Virginia lawmakers have rejected a bill that would have allow people with serious mental health conditions to possess and use psilocybin mushrooms with a doctor’s recommendation.
The legislation from Del. Dawn Adams (D) wouldn’t have legalized the psychedelic per se, but it would have provided an affirmative defense for those who use it to treat “refractory depression or post-traumatic stress disorder or to ameliorate end-of-life anxiety.”
While the bill was revised from an earlier version that Adams sponsored last year to more narrowly focus on medical uses of psilocybin, a House Courts of Justice subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the proposal, effectively killing it for the session.
The new measure would have additionally included legal protections against state-level prosecutions for doctors and pharmacists who distributed psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. State drug laws would have been amended to make non-medical possession of the psychedelic a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum $500 fine.
Adams told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday that the Virginia legislature tends to move more slowly on drug policy reform issues, so she didn’t have “extremely high hopes” that her bill would advance this session.
“I had some hope that if I tailored the bill to something really, super narrow that it might have a shot—but it was very clear that the bill was going nowhere from the start,” she said. “I just think that the folks that were reviewing the bill don’t have an appetite for learning about psilocybin, and they don’t have an appetite for, I think, attaching the reputation of mushrooms to their image.”
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The committee’s vote to lay the legislation on the table came after members received testimony from people with experience with the psychedelic, including military veterans and business owners who attested to the profound therapeutic benefit of the fungi.
“We’re really fighting these stigmas that have been sort of indoctrinated throughout our youth. And I mean, I don’t know what will be the tipping point,” Adams said, adding that it took stories of children who found relief from intractable epilepsy with CBD for the legislature to move on allowing access to cannabis, for example.
During Wednesday’s hearing, one member did bring up CBD and expressed concern about the differences in the psychoactive effect of psilocybin compared to the non-intoxicating cannabinoid.
Adams acknowledged that psilocybin produces hallucinogenic effects, but stressed that the mushroom is “natural,” not synthesized, and the point of the legislation is to simply “take away the concern of being arrested for trying to treat their mental health problems.”
There is another psychedelics bill that’s still in play in Virginia this session—a proposal from Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D) to reclassify psilocybin from Schedule I to Schedule III under state statute and establish a Virginia Psilocybin Advisory Board.
The board would be required to “develop a long-term strategic plan for establishing therapeutic access to psilocybin services and monitor and study federal laws, regulations, and policies regarding psilocybin.”
Adams, who is running for a Senate seat and is leaving the House after this session, said that she worried that if the legislature enacted that legislation and created an advisory board, it would give lawmakers an excuse to continue to delay action on comprehensive reform, kicking the issue “down the curb.”
In any case, while her bill was defeated, the delegate said she remained “grateful that people were willing to share their stories and their vulnerabilities” in the hearing.
“There were several veterans who talked about their struggle and being at a crossroads with suicide,” she said. “This is just such a serious issue—and psilocybin saved their life and that’s huge.”
Virginia is just one of numerous states where psychedelics reform is being pursued in the 2023 session so far.
For example, a Republican Missouri lawmaker filed a bill on Wednesday that would provide therapeutic access to psilocybin for people with serious mental health conditions.
A Republican New Hampshire lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the possession and use of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD by adults 21 and older.
New York Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D) pre-filed legislation late last month to legalize certain psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine for adults 21 and older. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) also recently signed a bill mandating that the state immediately reschedule or deschedule Schedule I drugs like MDMA and psilocybin if they’re reclassified under federal law.
Bipartisan Washington State senators also recently unveiled a revised bill to legalize psilocybin services for adults.
There are also psychedelics reform efforts underway in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, 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 last month concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
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