July was another big month for U.S. federal representatives attempting to reform existing drug policies. At the State and local level, and across the border in Canada, conversations took place largely around decriminalization and access to psychedelic therapy, respectively.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment request revitalized the conversation around psychedelic research in Congress. Meanwhile, a House committee suggested that the U.S. National Institute of Health study psychedelic substances to treat mental health issues among military veterans.
California’s psychedelic decriminalization bill continued to progress on the state level but with major amendments — dropping provisions to reschedule ketamine and placing limits on amounts for personal possession of other substances. Meanwhile, Oregon’s psilocybin advisory board published their first report in the last week of July, concluding that psilocybin mushrooms may help overcome depression and anxiety.
Here’s Truffle Report’s list of top legal developments from the past month:
Although Defeated, AOC’s Psychedelic Research Amendment Got More Support Than Before
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment to lift restrictions on research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics was rejected again by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 27.
Ocasio-Cortez submitted an amendment a week earlier, requesting to allow “United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several Schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that are effective in treating critical diseases.”
This attempt saw a significant increase in support compared to a similar amendment filed two years ago. The House of Representatives rejected the proposal by a vote of 140-285, a margin much smaller than the 91-331 vote on a similar proposal in 2019.
“That’s a huge increase in support. That’s a leap. That’s not like a step,” AOC told The News Station. “My goal was for us to break 100 votes on this. That was, like, my main goal,” she added.
House Committee Suggests That NIH Study Psychedelics for Treating Mental Health Issues
A U.S. House Committee — Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, along with other related agencies — suggested that the National Institute of Health (NIH) should study the potential benefits of psychedelics as alternative treatments for rising military veteran suicide.
In a paragraph that appeared in a 453-page long report, the committee says, “There have been many recent studies and clinical trials demonstrating the positive impact of alternative therapies, including psychedelics, for treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder, particularly for veteran participants.”
The Appropriations Committee report adds, “In light of growing interest in this area, the Committee encourages NIH and other relevant Federal agencies to undertake, and where appropriate expand, research to evaluate the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies in treating PTSD, major depressive disorder, and other serious mental health conditions.”
Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board’s First Report
A review panel, established after ballot Measure 109 legalized medical psilocybin in Oregon, published its first report in the last week of July, stating that psilocybin may be effective in reducing depression and anxiety, including in life-threatening conditions.
In its report submitted to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the advisory board noted that “The FDA has designated psilocybin a breakthrough therapy for the treatment of depression, indicating that preliminary clinical evidence suggests it may represent a significant improvement over existing therapies.”
“Initial research also suggests that psilocybin may be efficacious in reducing problematic alcohol and tobacco use. Across studies, psilocybin increases spiritual well-being which may mediate other observed benefits. Study participants also commonly rate their psilocybin experiences as highly meaningful,” it adds.
The report concludes with 11 recommendations and will be made available for public comments this month.
Pennsylvania’s Attempt to Study Psilocybin-assisted Therapy
State Representatives Tracy Pennycuick and Jennifer O’Mara announced that they are planning to introduce legislation in the Pennsylvania legislature proposing to study psilocybin-assisted therapy for the treatment of mental health issues including PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
In a memorandum titled ‘ Public Health Benefits of Psilocybin Act’ published on the official government site, Reps. O’Mara and Pennycuick write, “As traditional treatment has proven inadequate at both the individual and public health level, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to research alternative options.” The legislation is likely to be similar to Texas’ recent psychedelic study bill.
Citing the growing body of research around psychedelics, they write, “The United States Food and Drug Administration, based on the success of these studies, has granted a “Breakthrough Therapy” designation for use of psilocybin to treat depression, meaning it demonstrates substantial improvement over available treatments.”
The legislation will allow the cultivation of psilocybin under state law for “conducting the more cost-efficient clinical studies described under this Act, outside the traditional clinical trial phases and the federal regulatory system.”
California’s Bill Continues to Progress
The California Assembly Health Committee advanced psychedelic decriminalization bill SB 519 with an amendment, setting limits on possession for personal use.
Sen. Scott Wiener introduced SB 519 in February, proposing to decriminalize simple possession of psychedelics. If passed, the legislation “would make lawful the possession for personal use” and “the social sharing” of psychedelic plants including DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and MDMA.
In the past month, and after approving the legislation by a vote of 8-4, the committee set a limit on personal use of psychedelic substances. The committee also renamed ‘social sharing’ to ‘facilitated/supported use’ of psychedelic substances. This means that those who are supplying for groups will be able to cultivate and possess amounts of all individuals involved in the group without an intention of selling.
Sen. Wiener also agreed to remove ketamine from the bill during a previous Assembly Committee hearing in June after the committee members had expressed concerns about the substance being used as a ‘date rape drug’.
The legislation will be assessed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee after the session reconvenes from the summer break on August 16.
California’s Ballot Initiative for Legal Psilocybin
Decriminalize California, a state-based advocacy group, filed a petition to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in California through a 2022 ballot measure.
The petition titled ‘the California Psilocybin Initiative’ was submitted to the state attorney general’s office on July 12. If approved, the measure would require 623,212 valid signatures from registered voters within 180 days, starting early September.
The initiative would legalize “personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use” of psilocybin mushrooms for individuals aged 21 and over. It would also allow “cultivation, manufacture, processing, production” of mushroom edible products and extracts of psilocybin.
The initiative has dropped the word “decriminalize” from the title, saying there won’t be limits on personal possession of psilocybin. The proposal also drops the scope of sales, use or excise tax.
Arcata, California’s Move to Decriminalize Entheogens, Fungi
After a split vote in the Arcata City Council to decriminalize psychedelics and fungi, the city’s public safety committee approved the resolution after a review. The proposal is now back to the city council for a final vote.
Decriminalize Nature Humboldt, a non-profit advocacy group pushing for psychedelic policy reform, brought the resolution to the council on July 21. Arcata City Council Member Sarah Schaefer had volunteered to sponsor the resolution.
The resolution proposes that the arrest of people for “planting, cultivating, engaging in practices with, or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi” should be the lowest law enforcement priority in the city. It also suggests “reprioritizing funding away from the arrest of individuals” who are involved in entheogenic practices.
“The city has the power to prioritize where law enforcement goes and then where the resources go for that. It doesn’t change the law, there are no changes to municipal code but (deprioritization) really allows for the city to say, ‘Hey, plants and mushrooms aren’t really a big priority for us, we have other things going on,’” ” Dr. Larry Norris, co-founder of the Oakland-based campaign Decriminalize Nature told Times-Standard.
The Arcata City Council will be voting on the proposal again on August 18, 2021.
Easthampton, Massachusetts May Soon End Criminalization on Possession of Plant Medicine
A fourth city in Massachusetts is now heading to a vote on the decriminalization of psychedelics, allowing residents to use, transport and cultivate plant medicine for personal use.
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a non-profit advocacy group leading the movement in Massachusetts, shared on July 22 that the resolution proposing to make psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority was being considered by Eastampton and would “soon come to a vote.”
The resolution is being sponsored by Councillors Owen Zaret, Thomas Peake, and Salem Derby. “Used in the context of allopathic medicine, through peer-reviewed studies, these plants have revealed several therapeutic uses ranging from easing opioid withdrawal symptoms, to managing addiction, to use as antidepressants,” the councillors wrote.
“Given the valuable uses of these plants when used personally and responsibly, we recommend that the council request the lowest level of enforcement for possession of these plants for personal adult use,” they continued in the letter. “We need to stop arresting, penalizing, and incarcerating people for using these plants that have no harm when used properly and therapeutically. We also need to treat the opioid crisis as a public health crisis, not as a criminal issue.”
Somerville, Northampton, and Cambridge also decriminalized psychedelics earlier this year.
Grand Rapids, Michigan to Follow Ann Arbor’s Lead
Decriminalize Nature is working to convince the Grand Rapids City Council to make psychedelics their lowest law enforcement priority.
Similar to other proposals, this resolution would also decriminalize possession, cultivation and use of entheogenic plants and fungi for personal use.
“The best-case scenario for me is that during the fall it would come up and it would pass with a resounding vote. I don’t know if it would be unanimous, but it would be a strong vote,” 1st Ward City Commissioner Kurt Reppart told MLive. He is working as a political advisor for DN Grand Rapids.
Washtenaw County earlier decriminalized psychedelics, joining Ann Arbor, the county’s major city. Ann Arbor City Council decriminalized psychedelics unanimously in September 2020. If approved, Grand Rapids would be the second city in Michigan to do so.
Patients Move to Federal Court Against Health Canada for Delayed Response in Access to Psilocybin Mushrooms
After not having their applications heard for Section 56 exemption to access psilocybin, five Canadians are taking Health Canada to court for its delayed response.
Last August, Health Canada granted Section 56 exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to four patients seeking psilocybin therapy related to end-of-life psychological distress. Since then, Health Minister Patty Hajdu has granted over 45 exemptions for end-of-life palliative care and depression. However, there seems to be an inconsistency in the granting of access.
The litigation filed against Health Canada seeks judicial review, posing a procedural question to respond to requests with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. At this moment, 17 patients and 40 healthcare workers are awaiting responses to their Section 56 exemption applications through TheraPsil — an advocacy group leading the movement to get psilocybin access, as well as training therapists and administering psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions for approved patients. The organization has also launched a campaign to establish regulations for access to psilocybin.
Health Canada also recently published a clarification on the Special Access Program amendment, which if passed, would “restore potential access to restricted drugs, which include psychedelic drugs.”
Ritika is a Toronto-based reporter. She writes about drug policies and developments in psychedelics.