Bipartisan members of Congress sent a letter on Tuesday requesting that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) started circulating a Dear Colleague letter to build support for the request last month. Now signed by a coalition of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the letter to DEA stresses that there are state and federal right-to-try (RTT) laws that should make it so certain patients can obtain the psychedelic given that it’s shown early potential in ongoing clinical trials.
DEA has denied access, however, resulting in a lawsuit that was filed in March by a Washington State doctor who sought federal guidance to treat terminal patients with psilocybin mushrooms and was told there wasn’t a legal avenue for him to do so.
The lawmakers said DEA is “obstructing access to psilocybin for therapeutic use consistent with the letter and intent Right to Try (RTT) laws.”
“Research demonstrates that psilocybin provides immediate, substantial and sustained relief from debilitating anxiety and depression in individuals with terminal illnesses,” the letter states. “We strongly believe that our constituents suffering such illnesses should have access to this investigational drug should they decide to pursue such a course of treatment.”
Beside Blumenauer, the other signatories on the letter are Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Dean Philips (D-MN) and Madeleine Dean (D-PA).
Biggs stands out as an especially interesting signatory given that he’s been openly hostile toward marijuana reform, voting against proposals to end federal prohibition and protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses. The congressman also once inaccurately claimed on the House floor that voters in his state only “barely” approved a measure to legalize marijuana during the 2020 election. In fact, it passed 60-40 percent.
That said, right-to-try laws seem to have broader support among Republicans, with Congress and 41 states having adopted such policies, which allow patients with terminal conditions to try investigational medications that have not been approved for general use. The new letter says DEA has “has failed to abide” by the law.
The lawsuit against DEA is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which heard oral arguments in the case in September. Washington State’s attorney general’s office joined the plaintiffs in support of psilocybin access. DEA argued that the court should dismiss the suit because it lacked jurisdiction.
The lawmakers’ letter is addressed to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, who was appointed by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate over the summer.
“Urgent action is needed to ensure that people currently suffering terminal illness can elect treatment involving psilocybin,” it says. “We therefore urge you to take quick action to ensure that the DEA follows duly enacted RTT law and accommodates constituents with terminal illnesses in receiving psilocybin for therapeutic use.”
Blumenauer separately told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s “excited” about advancements in psychedelics research, as well as the implementation of a psilocybin therapy program that’s being set up in his home state of Oregon, where voters approved the historic reform during last year’s election.
Oregon’s initiative is “a model about how to take advantage of the this therapy for people who desperately need it,” he said. “There are a number of opportunities to demonstrate the power of this therapy. And we are, in a very thoughtful and systematic way, implementing that in Oregon to show how it can result.”
“I think this discussion needs to take place on Capitol Hill—and it’s something that I would like to occur early in the new the new year,” Blumenauer said. “Let people understand the potential, using opportunities now for people in the late stages of life to be able to try this using federal legislation.”
Read the text of the letter to DEA on right-to-try for psilocybin below: