Connect with us


Alaskans Support Psychedelics Reform, Poll Finds As Lawmakers Consider Bill To Study Therapeutic Access



As Alaska lawmakers continued to advance legislation to study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy in anticipation of federal approval, a new survey has found that nearly half (49.4 percent) of adults in the state would support a ballot measure to more broadly remove criminal penalties for using substances such as psilocybin mushrooms.

But that support rose markedly—to nearly two thirds (65 percent)—when participants were told that Alaska has high rates of mental illnesses that could potentially be treated with psychedelics.

The statewide survey of 1,179 Alaska residents was released last week by the Alaska Entheogenic Awareness Council (AKEAC), an advocacy group. It comes as momentum grows in the state for reform around psychedelics, which many see as a promising option to aid veterans and others with PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.

“It’s inspiring to see such a positive shift in how people view the use of these plant medicines,” AKEAC said in a statement about the new poll. “More people are recognizing the value of these substances in addressing certain mental health conditions.”

The findings, the advocacy group said, “underscore a growing sentiment among Alaskan residents for policy reforms that prioritize harm reduction, access to alternative treatments, and a shift toward evidence-based drug policies.”

The poll comes amid a push this session for legislation to form a task force to study future legalization and regulation of psychedelic-assisted therapy. The bill has already cleared one Senate committee, and on Monday, lawmakers on a second panel took testimony from supporters.

If approved, the bill in its current form would create a legislative task force that would spend the rest of 2024 studying how to license and regulate psychedelic therapy in Alaska in the event of federal rescheduling of MDMA, psilocybin or other entheogenic substances. It would not itself change the legal status of any drugs.

“Conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance use disorders and [traumatic brain injury] are highly prevalent in Alaska,” Sen. Forrest Dunbar (D), the legislation’s sponsor, said. “Trials show that psychedelic-assisted therapies can be effective in treating these conditions. The task force will explore how psychedelic-assisted therapies will fit into Alaska’s health care system.”

Rep. Jennie Armstrong (D), meanwhile, has introduced a House version of the bill, which has received a committee hearing but no vote as of yet.

While Monday’s hearing on the proposal was relatively relaxed, some members of the Senate panel nevertheless expressed skepticism.

Sen. Löki Tobin (D), for example, asked why no law enforcement representatives would be part of the task force.

“I’m going to ask about one position that I see is noticeably absent, which is a position from law enforcement,” Tobin said. “As we’re watching what’s unfolding in Oregon around some of their decriminalization of types of controlled substances, one of the things that has come up is that kind of just missing a voice who might be able to provide some insight on legal ramifications or interpretation of boots on the ground.”

Oregon voters in 2020 approved two landmark drug policy reform ballot measures. One, Measure 109, legalized psilocybin services. A separate initiative, Measure 110, decriminalized use and possession of all drugs. Tobin appeared to be conflating the two measures.

“This is primarily a bill about licensing, not legalization,” Dunbar replied, likening therapeutic psychedelics to ketamine—which is already an approved—as well as more mainstream medications.

“We don’t usually primarily rely on law enforcement. Instead, we rely on licensing and, you know, that kind of regulation,” he said.

The vice chair of the committee, Sen. Jesse Kiehl (D) quizzed Dunbar on recent changes to the measure that shortened the duration of the task force and removed funding for travel reimbursement. Those adjustments, along with making the body a legislative task force rather than an executive one, were designed to reduce the bill’s fiscal note to zero.

Kiehl said he understood the aim of the changes, but he asked Dunbar whether it was realistic to expect the committee to complete its task by December, especially with zero financial support.

“The benefit of putting it in the legislative branch instead of the executive is you can do away with the fiscal note,” he told Dunbar. “The downside is, who will provide staff to support this commission? Who’s going to gather up the things and research and put together the agenda?”

Dunbar said his own office would provide some of the support, adding that he’s aware of “a number of other organizations who might be interested in providing assistance.” At the same time, he said, “I don’t deny it is a challenge.”

As for whether the group would have enough time to study the issue thoroughly and make recommendations, Dunbar said the proposed timeline “was imposed on us by the federal government.”

He pointed to recent Phase III clinical trial of MDMA as a treatment for PTSD that have put the substance on track for possible approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as soon as this year.

“Folks are expecting this by the end of the summer, and that sort of motivates our desire to do this quickly,” Dunbar told Kiehl, “but I agree with you that certainly it is an ambitious timeframe.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately held the bill for later action.

As for the new polling data, the shift in survey results between two questions highlights the effect of framing on public support. Participants were first asked simply whether they would support or oppose a ballot initiative to remove criminal penalties for the use of “natural psychoactive plants and fungi, such as psilocybin mushrooms.”

In response to that question, 49.4 percent were in favor, 34.2 percent were opposed and 16.4 percent were undecided.

Support for reform was far stronger when pollsters first referenced mental health issues by noting that “Alaska has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the country” and that psilocybin and other psychedelics “have been shown to be safe and effective in treating mental health conditions, like PTSD for example.”

Framed that way, support for removing criminal penalties jumped to nearly two thirds (65 percent), while opposition fell to less than a quarter (24 percent). The share of respondents with no opinion (11 percent) also fell.

2024 Winter Alaska Survey Report / Alaska Entheogenic Awareness Council

2024 Winter Alaska Survey Report / Alaska Entheogenic Awareness Council

Both questions asked about the same broad reform of removing criminalization of “personal use” despite the reference to therapeutic applications in one question.

In terms of how support changed between the first question and the second, 19.7 percent of respondents were more supportive, 1 percent were less supportive and 79.3 percent expressed no difference of opinion.

Those who switched from opposing reform in the first question to supporting it in the second, AKEAC said, were more likely to be white, female, politically moderate, 55 or older and in a household making more than $100,000 in annual income. They were also more likely to have voted in every general election and live in Anchorage.

Generally, support for removing criminal penalties for using psychedelics was lower among older Alaskans, with the 55-and-older age group being the only age bracket with less than a majority in favor (36 percent). By contrast, support was 52.7 percent among people 45 to 54, 51.1 percent among those 35 to 44 and 67.8 percent among those 18 to 34.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Political ideology also played a deciding role in how people responded. Among moderates, 48.3 percent were in favor of psychedelics reform. Conservatives were much less supportive, at 31.8 percent, while 78.6 percent of progressives were in favor.

People who hadn’t attended college were less likely to support reform, as were people in households making more than $100,000 per year. More frequent voters were also more skeptical of the policy change.

Differences by region, sex, household size and number of children in the family, by comparison, were relatively minimal.

AKEAC compared the results of its study with those separate research published last year by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Science of Psychedelics. While the formulation of the questions differed between the two surveys, the Berkeley report found that 61 percent of U.S. registered voters supported “creating a regulated legal framework for the therapeutic use of psychedelics” while another 49 percent backed decriminalization more broadly.

The Berkeley survey also found that nearly 4 in 5 Americans (78 percent) were in favor of “making it easier for researchers to study psychedelic substances.”

As more research into the potential benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy emerges, and as more jurisdictions take steps to research, decriminalize or regulate psychedelics, the social acceptance of the practice appears to be growing.

In Canada, for example, nearly 8 in 10 people (79.3 percent) recently said they believed psilocybin-assisted therapy is “a reasonable medical choice” to treat existential dread at the end of one’s life, while almost 2 in 3 (63.3 percent) felt the substance should be legal for medical purposes generally.

Meanwhile a doctor in Washington State who specializes in palliative care has also been working since at least 2020 to secure access to psilocybin for cancer patients he treats, an effort currently tied up in court amid pushback from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Military members and their families are also broadly supportive of legal access to psychedelics in a mental health context. More than 6 in 10 (62 percent) said psychedelics can be an effective treatment for certain mental health conditions, while nearly two thirds (64 percent) said Veterans Administration (VA) doctors should be able to legally recommend psychedelics to veterans if they believe it would benefit the patients.

Psilocybin Mushrooms May Date To The Time Of The Dinosaurs (Or At Least Their Demise), Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

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.


Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.