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Bipartisan California Senators File Bill To Create Psilocybin Therapy Pilot Program For Veterans And First Responders

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Bipartisan California lawmakers have filed legislation to authorize a pilot program that would provide psilocybin treatment to military veterans and first responders.

Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones (R) and Sen. Josh Becker (D) unveiled the Heal Our Heroes Act on Thursday. It was introduced as an amendment to an unrelated Senate-passed bill that’s currently on the Assembly floor.

The move comes weeks after a Senate committee effectively killed a broader bill that would have legalized psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could have accessed psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

Under the new legislation, the counties of San Francisco, Santa Cruz and San Diego would be able to establish pilot programs where veterans and first responders could receive psilocybin treatment with a licensed facilitator. Those professionals would need to be a physician, surgeon, clinical psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, licensed professional clinical counselor or a naturopathic doctor.

“As a dedicated advocate for veterans and first responders, I firmly believe it is our duty to support and heal the brave individuals who served our country and communities,” Jones said in a press release. “To be clear, I’m not calling for the widespread legalization of psychedelic drugs. Rather, I’m championing a targeted medical treatment aimed specifically at aiding veterans and first responders in their recovery.”

“The Heal Our Heroes Act is a thoughtful and balanced measure designed to rigorously study the effectiveness of these treatments with the hope of providing much-needed relief to those patients who need it most,” he said.

The bill as amended calls for the pilot program to sunset after three years, with requirements to collect data and submit reports on the impact of the reform after two years. There are also provisions mandating certain safety standards such as screening participants to ensure that they can safely benefit from the psychedelic treatment.

“SB 803 is an entirely new and innovative effort that is the result of comprehensive discussions on how the state can best support our veterans and first responders with a viable treatment for work-induced post-traumatic stress disorder,” Becker said. “We have a responsibility to do everything possible to provide quality care to these heroes, and I am proud to joint author this bipartisan effort that will have a real impact on the people who serve our state and country.”

The legislation is expected to go to the Assembly Rules Committee for a policy committee referral before potentially going back to the floor for consideration. Because the original bill language was struck and replaced with the psychedelics proposal, it would then need to return to the Senate for concurrence before potentially heading to the governor’s desk.

“As a decorated combat Veteran and mental health advocate that has struggled with PTSD, I applaud the bipartisan coalition that is supporting the legislation Senator Becker and Senator Jones have authored,” Jason Moore Brown, a veteran with Heroic Hearts, the sponsor of the measure, said. “We’ve struggled to find meaningful support on this matter so I’m very thankful to the Senators.”

“We have lost over 130,000 Veterans to suicide since the Global War on Terror began in 2001. I know first hand that Psilocybin, when used responsibly and with support, has the potential to save the lives of California’s Veterans,” he said. “This pilot program is the responsible first step to reducing, and hopefully ending, the Veteran suicide epidemic.”

The bill was also coauthored by Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R), who is also sponsoring a separate psychedelics bill focused on promoting research and creating a framework for the possibility of regulated therapeutic access that has already moved through the Assembly this year with unanimous support.

Advocates remain disappointed, however, that a broader psychedelics measure from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) stalled out during its final Senate committee stop last month.

It had been drafted in a way that was meant to be responsive to concerns voiced by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last year when he vetoed a broader proposal that included provisions to legalize low-level possession of substances such as psilocybin.

Instead, the revised bill would have provided regulated access to psychedelics in a facilitated setting, without removing criminal penalties for possession outside of that context. It did not lay out any specific qualifying medical conditions that a person would need to have in order to access the services.


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Separately, a California campaign to put psilocybin legalization on the state’s November ballot recently announced that it did not secure enough signature to qualify in time for a deadline.

Another campaign filed and then abruptly withdrew an initiative to create a $5 billion state agency tasked with funding and promoting psychedelics research last year.

A third campaign also entered the mix late last year, proposing to legalize the possession and cultivation of substances like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline. People could buy them for therapeutic use with a doctor’s recommendation. Advocates for that measure still have time to gather and turn in signatures.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has since released its review of that proposal, outlining not only the plan’s policy implications but also its potential fiscal impacts on the state—which the report calls “various” and “uncertain.”

Some California municipalities, meanwhile, are pushing forward with reform on the local level. The city of Eureka, for example, adopted a resolution in October to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi and make enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change. Others include San FranciscoOaklandSanta Cruz and Arcata.

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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.

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