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Alaska Senate Panel Takes Up House-Passed Bill To Create Psychedelics Task Force In Anticipation Of Federal Legalization



Days after the Alaska House of Representatives approved 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, a Senate panel has already advanced the measure.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which considered a companion bill to the legislation in February, passed the bill, HB 228, without objection at a hearing on Monday. The action came after a brief discussion of how the House-passed legislation compares to the earlier Senate companion bill and a lone public comment from a member of the state’s Marijuana Control Board.

If it becomes law, the bill, from Rep. Jennie Armstrong (D), 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.

The Senate companion, SB 166, already passed out of one committee in that chamber. It had another hearing in February before the Judiciary Committee, which did not take action on the legislation.

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.

At Monday’s hearing, a member of Armstrong’s staff—the representative herself was on the floor—briefly explained the changes between the earlier legislation and HB 228 as recently approved by the House.

First, the name of the body in the current bill would be the Alaska Task Force for the Regulation of Psychedelic Medicines Approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—a reflection of the emphasis that the task force’s recommendations would be contingent on federal approval of psychedelics.

A number of other changes have been made around the membership of the task force, which would be chaired by two members of the state legislature. Among them, the amendments added a pharmacist to the group, removed a University of Alaska faculty member and clarified that certain task force members, such as the Alaska State Medical Association, specifically select physicians as representatives.

The latest version also extends the task force’s due date for its report to the legislature to January 31, 2025 instead of December 31 of this year, as the bill previously specified. It also sunsets the task force at the end—rather than at the beginning—of the next legislative session. Other changes allow legislators on the task force to send designees if they cannot attend a meeting, and it clarifies that task force meetings could be held virtually.

Yet another difference is the addition of language clarifying that the task force would consider 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.

Bailey Stuart, an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska who also serves on the state’s Marijuana Control Board and the board of a nonprofit that works with veterans and disabled active-duty service members, said during public comment on the bill at Monday’s hearing that she believes “it’s in the best interest of the state of Alaska, and for our veterans, to begin holding these discussions” through the state task force.

“The future of medicine, particularly in the mental health sector, is going in the direction of assisted psychedelic therapy,” Stuart, who also commented on the companion bill in February, told committee members. “I do believe this bill outlines the appropriate members to be part of the task force and could be vital to addressing the mental health crisis that the state of Alaska and our veterans are experiencing.”

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

Armstrong told House colleagues before last week’s floor vote that “whether you are excited about the idea of psychedelics getting approved, you’re neutral or you’re flat-out against it, I think we can all agree that if it is coming. We should be prepared and be thoughtful in how we approach it.”

“This August, it is widely anticipated that FDA will approve the most significant medicine for the treatment of mental health in decades,” she said, adding that approval of psilocybin could happen in the “next one or two years.”

The House passed the bill on a 36–4 vote during a floor session last Thursday’s. Most members who spoke on the proposal said they were open to the task force as a meaningful step toward addressing the state’s mental health crisis. As Armstrong noted, Alaska has “the highest number of veterans per capita and, unfortunately, some of the highest rates of violence in our country.”

“I’m in support of this bill because I’ve been affected by it directly,” said Rep. Laddie Shaw (R). “As the former director for state Veterans Affairs, I’ve had veterans come to me regarding this bill, and they have said, ‘We’ve done nothing for the past 50 years. Let’s do something.’”

“This task force gives us an opportunity to move forward with some productivity on behalf of our veterans,” he added. “We haven’t done anything for the last 50 years. Let’s move forward with something.”

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.”

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

In Vermont, for example, a House committee last week advanced a bill that would create a psychedelic-assisted therapy working group to make recommendations as to whether and how the state should regulate legal access to substances like psilocybin and MDMA.

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.

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.

Alaska lawmakers are considering legislation to create a task for to study how to regulate access to psychedelics following federal approval.

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 this 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.

Congressional Committee Approves GOP-Led Psychedelics Bill Focused On Military Veterans’ Therapeutic Access

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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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