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California Campaign To Put $5 Billion Towards Psychedelic Research Begins Gathering Signatures For Ballot Measure



Signature gathering has officially kicked off to qualify an initiative for California’s 2024 ballot that would spend $5 billion to create a state agency focused on advancing research and development of psychedelic therapies.

Known as the TREAT California Act, the measure would not itself change the legal status of any substances. Rather, it would establish a state agency called the Treatment, Research, Education, Access and Therapies (TREAT) Institute, which would identify opportunities for advancing scientific research and development into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

The initiative would create a state constitutional right to conduct research in California using all psychedelic substances except peyote. Among them are psilocybin, ibogaine, LSD, MDMA, ketamine and cannabis.

“It’s clear we are in a mental healthcare crisis, as conventional therapies too often fail to offer relief for people suffering from PTSD, suicide, and depression, and the effects are simply catastrophic,” Jeannie Fontana, CEO of the TREAT California campaign, said in a statement. “We have a moral imperative to address the limitations inherent in our current system, and it’s time we got started.”

The attorney general’s office released the official title and summary of the measure last month, and the campaign announced that signature gathering began last week.

In order to qualify the prospective constitutional amendment for next year’s ballot, the campaign will need at least 874,641 valid signatures from registered voters.

The initiative’s text says it’s meant to create a funding agency to “build out all the pieces of the psychedelic ecosystem necessary for this paradigm shift in mental healthcare,” with the ultimate goal of gaining federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and “making these valuable therapeutics accessible to all.”

Funding from the institute would support research, clinical trials, training, and education relating to the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes. The agency would also facilitate the creation of care programs in California for psilocybin and MDMA once the psychedelics are approved for therapeutic use by FDA.

Grants would need to support research into the risks and benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy for addiction, anxiety, depression, suicidality, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic and acute pain and other disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia.

California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) released its review of the measure last month, estimating that it would cost the state $6.6 billion over the next 30 years. But because all businesses, universities and other entities that receive funding from the TREAT Institute would be subject to intellectual property agreements, California could also recoup some of that money by bringing new scientific discoveries on psychedelics to market.

How much revenue—and when it could be generated—are still open questions, however.

“Because the R&D process can be lengthy, the state likely would not derive such revenue in the initial few years after TREAT-funded R&D commenced,” the LAO report said. “Moreover, the amount of revenue derived in this way is uncertain. Many times, R&D does not lead to new discoveries, but, in a few cases, new discoveries (such as a new drug) are very lucrative.”

Fontana, of TREAT California, said in a campaign press release that the initiative would “aid the development of FDA-approved [psychedelic-assisted therapies], which—when administered professionally—could offer meaningful pathways to the healing that people so desperately need and deserve.”

Deb Hubers, COO of TREAT, told Marijuana Moment in July that she was confident Californians would support the measure if it makes it to the ballot, pointing to recent national polling showing that a majority of Americans back legalizing psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Decriminalize California, a separate psychedelics campaign trying to qualify a measure for next year’s ballot, recently got approval from state officials to begin collecting signatures for its initiative to legalize psilocybin, including adult-use sales. Activists with the group have tried twice to put the reform on the ballot in prior cycles, but they’ve come up short, due in no small part to signature gathering complications during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently vetoed a bill to legalize certain psychedelics and create a pathway to regulated access. In a veto message, however, he wrote that he wants the legislature to send him a new bill next year establishing guidelines for regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics and also consider a “potential” framework for broader decriminalization in the future.

“Both peer-reviewed science and powerful personal anecdotes lead me to support new opportunities to address mental health through psychedelic medicines like those addressed in this bill,” Newsom said in a veto message on Saturday. “Psychedelics have proven to relieve people suffering from certain conditions such as depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other addictive personality traits. This is an exciting frontier and California will be on the front-end of leading it.”

“California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines—replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses,” he continued.  “Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it.”

Days earlier, Newsom signed off on a bill that would allow doctors in the state to immediately start prescribing certain currently illicit drugs like psilocybin and MDMA if they’re federally rescheduled.

Officials at various levels of government are increasingly calling on federal regulators to study the benefits of—and broaden access to—psychedelics for mental health. In Michigan, lawmakers passed a resolution urging the U.S. Congress, Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to prioritize research and investment in “non-technology treatment options”—including psychedelics—to treat psychological trauma from military service.

Earlier this year, House lawmakers passed a spending bill with a number of veteran-focused marijuana and psychedelics amendments. One would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to former servicemembers, and the other would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Three bipartisan House members also recently sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough expressing “deep concern” over a recently updated VA marijuana directive that continues to prohibit its doctors from making medical cannabis recommendations to veterans living in states where it’s legal.

Read the California attorney general’s full title and ballot description of the psychedelics measure below:

AUTHORIZES BONDS AND CREATES STATE AGENCY FOR PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY RESEARCH. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Creates state agency to regulate “psychedelic medicines” (defined as substances that “produce altered states of consciousness,” including psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, MDMA, ketamine, cannabis). Requires agency provide funding for research, development, and delivery of psychedelic medicines and therapies for treatment of mental health conditions and health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Establishes constitutional “right to conduct research” using psychedelic medicines. Authorizes $5 billion in state general obligation bonds for agency funding, with $500 million annual limit. Appropriates money from General Fund to repay bonds. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Average state costs of about $220 million each year for 30 years, with costs totaling $6.6 billion over the period.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.

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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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