The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday again defeated a spending bill amendment meant to promote research into the medical benefits of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. But it picked up about 50 “yes” votes since it was last considered in 2019, signaling that Congress may be coming around on the issue as psychedelics reform advances at the state and local levels—similar to how support for marijuana law reform has increased over time.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) sponsored the amendment, with the hopes of attaching it to a wide-ranging appropriations bill. But it failed in a 140-285 vote. That’s a notably smaller margin compared to two years ago, when the proposal was rejected by a vote of 91-331.
Most Democrats supported the amendment this round, unlike in 2019 when a majority of Ocasio-Cortez’s party joined Republicans in quashing the reform.
The proposal, if adopted, would have removed a 1990s-era provision that’s long been part of spending legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The rider bars use of funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I” of the Controlled Substances Act, language that reform supporters say can have a chilling effect on even researching the therapeutic potential of restricted drugs.
Despite the growth in Democratic support over the past two years, enough members of the party helped take the measure down during Tuesday’s vote. Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet that “we got a little closer to ending this outdated war-on-drugs-era policy last night” and pledged that she will “keep bringing it up until the times catch up.”
(The vote tallies cited in the following tweet are incorrect).
We got a little closer to ending this outdated war-on-drugs-era policy last night. Last Congress, we had 83 votes. This Congress, we had 139, including 7 Republicans. We'll keep bringing it up until the times catch up. We're undeterred! https://t.co/bS73jHRy6x
— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) July 28, 2021
A handful of Republicans did vote to pass the amendment, showing that the issue isn’t totally partisan. However, it was just seven GOP members who supported the effort, which is the same number as 2019. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) gave Ocasio-Cortez credit for “vastly increasing dem support here.”
BREAKING: Republicans voting YES on @aoc ecstasy/MDMA/psilocybin legislation (not enough, amendment fails)
Alex deserves a TON of credit for vastly increasing dem support here.
We will destigmatize this issue and win very soon based on the rate of growth of our support. pic.twitter.com/chme5TVDH2
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) July 28, 2021
- Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE)
- Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA)
- Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD)
- Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN)
- Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)
- Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
- Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
- Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA)
- Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)
- Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)
- Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO)
- Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS)
- Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA)
- Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)
- Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI)
- Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)
- Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX)
- Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA)
- Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL)
- Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)
- Rep. Al Green (D-TX)
- Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
- Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL)
- Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-MI)
- Rep. John Larson (D-CT)
- Rep. Al Lawson Jr. (D-FL)
- Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY)
- Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA)
- Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
- Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)
- Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)
- Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
- Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-PA)
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)
- Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ)
- Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA)
- Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY)
- Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)
- Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA)
- Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA)
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
- Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)
- Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Burchett was the lone Republican flip from opposition to support. And while each member may have their own reason for moving to back the amendment, it stands to reason that the psychedelics reform movement that’s played out locally and in states over the past two years contributed to the sizable increase in support.
Larson, for example, told The News Station that his state legislature’s passage of a bill requiring Connecticut to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms, which the governor signed last month, influenced his vote.
“I think that was part of it,” he said, adding that Ocasio-Cortez also proved convincing in their conversations.
There were also a number of flips for other members representing states where psychedelics reform has been pursued of late.
Six lawmakers from the California delegation switched to “yes” this vote, as the state legislature has been actively considering a proposal to legalize possession of certain psychedelics and advocates continue to push for psilocybin legalization via a ballot measure.
There were also a handful of Texas flips. The state legislature recently enacted a bill to require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Welch of Vermont decided to support the amendment this round after lawmakers in his state have pursued psychedelics decriminalization.
A Florida lawmaker introduced a bill this year to establish a legal psilocybin model for therapeutic use in the state, similar to an initiative that Oregon voters approved in November. Wilson, representing the state, changed her vote, too.
Last month, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. And four members of that state’s congressional delegation flipped to support the Ocasio-Cortez amendment from last time.
In contrast, there were just three members who flipped from “yes” to “no” since the 2019 vote:
- Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-GA)
- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)
- Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI)
There were some other newsworthy votes among congressional leadership. For example, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) all voted against the measure.
On the flip side, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)—who is sponsoring legislation to legalize marijuana federally—voted in favor of the proposal.
Separately on Tuesday, the House defeated a separate proposal from Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) to the HHS appropriations bill to eliminate a rider that’s currently in the legislation that “allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.”
The amendment was rejected, with 147 votes in favor and 276 against. Every Democratic who voted opposed the proposal, and 60 Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in defeating it.
Meanwhile, Congress will again vote on a proposal to protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference, a key committee decided on Wednesday.
The House Rules Committee made in order a bipartisan amendment to spending legislation that would provide the protections, which expand upon an existing rider that currently prevents the Justice Department from interfering in the implementation of medical cannabis laws alone. That more limited protection has been annually renewed as part of federal law since 2014.
The panel also advanced a competing amendment from Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) that would eliminate the current medical marijuana provision—despite the fact that it shields the decades-old program of the sponsor’s own state.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.