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Alaska Bill To Create Task Force To Study Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Heads To Governor’s Desk

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Alaska’s Senate on Friday gave final approval to a House-passed bill that would create a state task force to study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy in the event of federal approval of substances such as MDMA and psilocybin. The bill next heads to the desk of Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R).

The Senate approved the measure overwhelmingly, on an 18–1 vote.

If it becomes law, the bill from Rep. Jennie Armstrong (D), HB 228, would not change the legal status of any drugs in Alaska. Rather, it would create a legislative task force that would spend the rest of the year studying how to license and regulate psychedelic therapy in the state.

A report from the group with recommendations would be due on or before January 31, 2025.

Both MDMA and psilocybin have been granted breakthrough therapy status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and recent clinical trials have MDMA on pace for possible FDA approval later this year. Supporters of the bill say it would allow the state to begin considering how to respond in the event of that action.

“I want to start by saying what this bill does not do,” Sen. Forrest Dunbar (D), who sponsored a companion Senate version of the legislation, said before the vote. “It does not legalize psychedelics, nor does it take a position on legalization. Instead, it creates a task force designed to prepare Alaska in a regulatory framework should the FDA approve the medical use of these substances, which some folks are anticipating could happen as early as August of this year.”

“Advanced trials being conducted by the federal government demonstrate the effectiveness of psychedelic medicines and psychedelic-assisted therapies in medical settings,” he added, “particularly for PTSD.”

Lawmakers “heard powerful testimony in committee from medical providers and everyday citizens who believe these medicines can help to heal some members of our community who have not responded to more traditional treatments,” Dunbar continued, referencing a retired lieutenant colonel who testified how psychedelic-assisted therapy helped her survive not only PTSD stemming from military service but also the psychological impacts of a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Alaska leads the nation in veterans per capita and, tragically, in suicide rates as well,” Dunbar told Senate colleagues. “We face unique challenges with PTSD, depression, substance use disorders and traumatic brain injuries, especially amongst our veterans, our first responders and our survivors of domestic violence.”

“Psychedelic-assisted therapy—which I’m told is actually quite unpleasant and needs to be experienced in that medical setting—can help some of those people,” he said. “Not everyone, but some. And that means everything in the world.”

The task force would be charged with considering the use of psychedelics with regard to the state’s mental health crisis, to treat chronic and terminal illnesses and in end-of-life care.

Sen. Mike Shower (R) urged caution around the proposal, calling into question whether doctors could be trusted to prescribe psychedelics even if FDA approves their use in assisted therapy.

“OK, it’s prescription, that’s great,” Shower said, but “there’s lots of cases of doctors overprescribing things and getting people hooked.”

“Any drugs we do, no matter what they are, can be a gateway for stepping into something else and something else,” he continued. “More and more it takes for people to survive that, and we get people hooked on drugs.”

In fact, facilitated therapeutic use of MDMA typically involves just a few sessions in which participants consume the substance.

Shower, who nevertheless voted to approve the bill on Friday, said he hoped the state would look into other therapies, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which involves the use of magnetic fields near the brain. That therapy is approved by FDA for the treatment of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

A fiscal note from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development says the state would incur no cost from psychedelics task force bill.

Lawmakers in a growing number of states have considered psychedelics legislation this session, with many focusing on psilocybin reform and increased research.

This week in Vermont, for example, lawmakers signed off on a similar bill that would that would create a state working group to make recommendations on whether and how the state should regulate legal access to substances like psilocybin and MDMA. The measure next goes to Gov. Phil Scott (R).

In Maryland, the Senate and House of Delegates have both passed legislation to create a psychedelics task force responsible for studying possible regulatory frameworks for therapeutic access to substances such as psilocybin, mescaline and DMT, sending the proposal to Gov. Wes Moore (D). It would be charged specifically with ensuring “broad, equitable and affordable access to psychedelic substances” in the state.

Indiana’s governor recently signed a bill that includes provisions to fund clinical research trials into psilocybin.

Utah’s governor, meanwhile, allowed a bill to authorize a pilot program for hospitals to administer psilocybin and MDMA as an alternative treatment option to become law without his signature.

Maine lawmakers sent the governor legislation to establish a commission tasked with studying and making recommendations on regulating access to psychedelic services.

An Arizona House panel also approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize psilocybin service centers where people could receive the psychedelic in a medically supervised setting.

A Connecticut joint legislative panel approved a bill to decriminalize possession of psilocybin.

A bipartisan bill to legalize psychedelic service centers in California has cleared two Senate committees.

The governor of New Mexico has endorsed a newly enacted resolution requesting that state officials research the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and explore the creation of a regulatory framework to provide access to the psychedelic.

An Illinois committee also recently held a hearing to discuss a bill to legalize psilocybin and allow regulated access at service centers in the state where adults could use the psychedelic in a supervised setting—with plans to expand the program to include mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

Lawmakers in Hawaii also considered a bill that would provide some legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval.

New York lawmakers said that a bill to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in that state has a “real chance” of passing this year.

A Nevada joint legislative committee held a hearing with expert and public testimony on the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin in January. Law enforcement representatives also shared their concerns around legalization—but there was notable acknowledgement that some reforms should be enacted, including possible rescheduling.

The governor of Massachusetts also recently promoted the testimony of activists who spoke in favor of her veterans-focused bill that would, in part, create a psychedelics work group to study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin. Separately, an initiative that would legalize psychedelics may appear on the November ballot if lawmakers decline to independently enact it first.

Currently, there are no psychedelic drugs that are federally approved to prescribe as medicine. But that could soon change, as FDA recently agreed to review a new drug application for MDMA-assisted therapy on an expedited basis.

At the start of this year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) separately issued a request for applications to conduct in-depth research on the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD and depression.

In October, the agency also launched a new podcast about the future of veteran health care, and the first episode of the series focuses on the healing potential of psychedelics.

FDA also recently joined scientists at a public meeting on next steps for conducting research to develop psychedelic medicines. That came months after the agency issued historic draft guidance on psychedelics studies, providing scientists with a framework to carry out research that could lead to the development of novel medicines.

Meanwhile in Congress last week, a House panel approved GOP-led bill that would instruct VA to notify Congress if any psychedelics are added to its formulary of covered prescription drugs.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.

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