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Alaska House Committee Advances Bill To Create State Psychedelics Task Force In Anticipation Of Federal Legalization

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An Alaska House committee this week advanced a 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 House State Affairs Committee approved the legislation on Tuesday without objection following the adoption of an amendment that changed the proposed name of the task force and clarified its objective. The measure next proceeds to the House Rules Committee.

The amendment “simply changes the name of the task force to make it clear what the task force will be taking part in,” explained Rep. Ashley Carrick (D), who proposed the change, “and that they will not be taking a position on legalization, decriminalization or medicalization of psychedelic drugs.”

The newly proposed name of the body would be the Alaska Task Force for the Regulation of Psychedelic Medicines Approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Under the original version of the bill, the panel would have been called the Alaska Mental Health and Psychedelic Medicine Task Force.

If it becomes law, HB 228 would not itself change the legal status of any drugs. Rather, it would create a legislative task force that would spend the rest of 2024 studying how to license and regulate psychedelic therapy in Alaska. A report from the group with recommendations would be due on or before December 31, 2024.

Both MDMA and psilocybin have been granted breakthrough therapy status by FDA, and recent clinical trials have MDMA on pace for possible FDA approval later this year.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to safely maximize the benefit of these medicines for Alaska,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jenny Armstrong (D). “This is not something where we are here to defend or promote or take a position on psychedelics. Rather, this is something that is coming. The clinical trials on this began 20 years ago. And so I think, perhaps, even if you are a little nervous or you are unsure, that is the reason why we want to have a task force.”

Armstrong reminded members that psychedelics are far from the only controversial class of medically beneficial drug. “There are many prescriptions that are controversial,” she said. “Everything from birth control to painkillers and even ibuprofen can be controversial sometimes.”

Prior to voting, the State Affairs Committee heard public testimony on the measure, although discussion was minimal.

Michael DeMolina, the president of an integrative healthcare center in Anchorage who’s testified on the bill in past hearings, said he supports the proposal because “it just simply puts Alaska ahead of the curve if the FDA does medicalize MDMA as soon as this August.”

“There’s also a possibility, if there is no task force, then there would be a problem,” DeMolina continued, saying that there “would be no guidelines” for the state in the event of federal rescheduling of psychedelics.

As Armstrong has noted in past hearings, Alaska has “the highest share of veterans per capita and one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.”

“Coupled with also being a state where 43.3 percent of women and 30.2 percent of men in Alaska experience domestic violence and related crimes in their lifetimes and where 84 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women experience violence,” she said last month, “there is a potential for these medicines to have a profoundly positive impact on the mental health crises we see statewide.”

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

Members of a separate House panel adopted amendments last month to bring the bill into alignment with its Senate companion, SB 166, which has already passed out of one committee in that chamber and had another committee hearing in February. Among the changes, the amendments made the task force a legislative group rather than an executive one—designed to reduce the proposal’s fiscal note to zero—and added a member to the task force representing psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Also, rather than have the task force elect a chair itself, the latest version of the bill says that the members appointed by the president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives would by default serve as the group’s co-chairs.

Sponsors filed the legislation in both chambers in January.

Alaskans generally support reforms to policies around psychedelics, especially with regard to mental health. Just under half (49.4 percent) of those surveyed in a recent poll said they favor broadly removing criminal penalties around substances such as psilocybin mushrooms. When respondents were told that Alaska has particularly high rates of mental illnesses that could potentially be treated with psychedelics, however, support for the reform rose to 65 percent.

“It’s inspiring to see such a positive shift in how people view the use of these plant medicines,” said the Alaska Entheogenic Awareness Council (AKEAC), an advocacy group that published the new poll. “More people are recognizing the value of these substances in addressing certain mental health conditions.”

That’s true not only in Alaska but across the country. A growing number of states are pursuing psychedelics reform legislation this legislative session, with a focus on research and therapeutic access.

For example, the Maryland 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.

In Missouri this week, House lawmakers adjusted a proposed budget bill to include $10 million to study psilocybin as a possible treatment for substance use disorder. An earlier version of the bill would have put that money toward ibogaine research instead.

Vermont’s Senate recently passed a measure that would establish a working group to study whether and how to allow therapeutic access to psychedelics in the state. If the bill is enacted, a report from the working group would be due to the legislature in November with recommendations on how to regulate the substances.

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

Utah’s governor 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.

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.

Maine lawmakers are advancing legislation to establish a commission tasked with studying and making recommendations on regulating access to psychedelic services.

A bipartisan bill to legalize psychedelic service centers in California was recently amended in a number of different ways as supporters prepare for an expected committee hearing this month.

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

New York lawmakers also 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 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. Last month a Massachusetts joint legislative committee held a hearing to discuss an initiative that would legalize psychedelics that may appear on the November ballot if lawmakers decline to independently enact it first.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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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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