A Connecticut legislative committee on Friday approved a bill that would set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment with substances like MDMA and psilocybin.
Before the vote, several members of the joint Public Health Committee remarked on the compelling testimony of top military officials, advocates and scientists who spoke about their experiences and the potential impact of the reform at a hearing earlier this week.
The legislation was approved on a noncontroversial basis as part of the panel’s consent calendar. It now advances to floor consideration.
The measure, HB 5396, would create psychedelic treatment centers in the state, pending approval of the substances by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under its expanded access program for investigational new drugs.
Rep. Michelle Cook (D) explained her support for the policy change, citing the “compassionate testimony that we had the other day from so many folks.”
“I think that by sitting back and not doing something, as we heard the other day, is costing lives day after day after day,” the lawmaker said. “Doing nothing I think would be criminal in this regard.”
Rep. Kathy Kennedy (R) echoed her colleague’s point, saying that “the testimony that we heard was compelling, it was compassionate, it was emotional and we owe something to our veterans who have served our country and many others that would benefit from this treatment.”
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While the legislation would not legalize the psychedelics, it would set up a regulatory infrastructure to enable Connecticut to play a leading role in providing access to this alternative treatment option as federal agencies continue to fund and facilitate clinical trials.
Psychedelic therapy would be specifically provided and funded for military veterans, retired first responders, health care workers and any person from a “historically underserved community, and who has a serious or life-threatening mental or behavioral health disorder and without access to effective mental or behavioral health medication.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed a separate bill last year that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms. A workgroup has since been meeting to investigate the issue.
The new measure would require the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to launch a “psychedelic-assisted therapy pilot program to provide qualified patients with the funding” to receive MDMA- or psilocybin-assisted therapy as part of FDA’s expanded access program, the text of the bill states.
The pilot program would cease “when MDMA and psilocybin have been approved to have a medical use by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or any successor agency.” At that point, state statute on the substances would be aligned with the federal government’s.
One member of the panel, Rep. Liz Linehan (D), suggested on Friday that lawmakers further consider “adding in other treatments” such as ketamine.
Meanwhile, Chairman Jonathan Steinberg (D) expressed frustration with the slow pace of federal reform.
“The pilot program ends when the federal DEA approves MDMA and psilocybin for medical use,” he said, adding that “we should say ‘when and if,’ but we’re presuming ‘when.'”
“We are treading on some new ground here. We’ll be among the first number of states to try to help people” with psychedelic therapies, he said. “We heard a tremendous amount of moving testimony, particularly from veterans that this can be a game changer for them, having tried any number of other therapies for PTSD and other conditions—and not just veterans.”
“Sometimes we have to struggle with the feds. Sometimes we just wish they’d get out of our way, but it doesn’t happen very often,” Steinberg said.
In the interim, the bill would further establish a Qualified Patients for Approved Treatment Sites Fund (PAT Fund) to provide “grants to qualified applicants to provide MDMA-assisted or psilocybin assisted therapy to qualified patients under the pilot program.”
“Approved treatment sites shall collect and submit data to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, including, but not limited to, its protocols for the provision of MDMA-assisted and psilocybin-assisted treatment, training on the facilitation of such treatment, implementation of facility standards, strategies for patient protection and mitigation of drug diversion.”
The bill would further create a Connecticut Psychedelic Treatment Advisory Board under the department. Legislative leaders and the governor would be empowered to appoint members of the board.
The board would be tasked with making recommendation on the “design and development of the regulations and infrastructure necessary to safely allow for therapeutic access to psychedelic-assisted therapy upon the legalization of MDMA, psilocybin and any other psychedelic compounds.”
There would be seven key areas that the board would be responsible for advising the department on:
- Reviewing and considering the data from the psychedelic-assisted therapy pilot program…to inform the development of such regulations
- Advising the department on the necessary education, training, licensing and credentialing of therapists and facilitators, patient safety, harm reduction, the establishment of equity measures in both clinical and therapeutic settings, cost and insurance reimbursement considerations and standards of treatment facilities
- Advising the department on the use of group therapy and other therapy options to reduce cost and maximize public health benefits from psychedelic treatments
- Monitoring updated federal regulations and guidelines for referral and consideration by the state agencies of cognizance for implementation of such regulations and guidelines.
- Developing a long-term strategic plan to improve mental health care through the use of psychedelic treatment.
- Recommending equity measures for clinical subject recruitment and facilitator training recruitment
- Assisting with the development of public awareness and education campaigns.
Friday’s committee vote revealed a significant level of bipartisanship around the reform proposal, with multiple Republican and Democratic legislators emphasizing the significant “potential” that these psychedelics may present for vulnerable communities.
The legislature should “continue this forward with the recognition that the FDA will continue doing their work,” Rep. Josh Elliott (D) said, but that “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing ours.”
Also in Connecticut, regulators recently began accepting certain marijuana business license applications as part of the recreational cannabis law that Lamont signed last year.
Meanwhile, the state’s Social Equity Council approved a list of geographic areas disproportionately impacted by the drug war, which will be used to determine eligibility for social equity business licenses. Under the state’s new cannabis program, half of all licenses must go to equity applicants, who may also qualify for lower licensing fees, technical assistance, workforce training and funding to cover startup costs.
Over the summer, Lamont also announced the launch of a new website to provide residents with up-to-date information on the state’s new marijuana legalization law.
As it stands, adults 21 and older are already able to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis for personal use.
In the psychedelics space, reform is advancing in states across the country.
A Maryland House of Delegates committee on Tuesday held a hearing on a bill to create a state fund that could be used to provide access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Washington State legislature last week sent a budget bill to the governor’s desk that includes a proposal to direct $200,000 in funding to support a new workgroup to study the possibility of legalizing psilocybin services in the state, including the idea of using current marijuana regulatory systems to track psychedelic mushrooms.
Last week, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a “long-term” plan to ensure that the psychedelic is accessible for medical use for adults 21 and older.
Also last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill this week to decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin and promote research into the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.
A bipartisan coalition of Georgia lawmakers recently filed a resolution that calls for the formation of a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and make recommendations for reforms.
Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills this month—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.
Also this month, a Missouri Republican lawmaker filed a bill that would legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.
Last month, Utah lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that would create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
An Oregon Senate committee also recently advanced a bill to ensure that equity is built into the state’s historic therapeutic psilocybin program that’s actively being implemented following voter approval in 2020.
A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel in January, only to be pushed off until 2023. A separate Senate proposal to decriminalize psilocybin alone was later defeated in a key committee.
California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.
Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation in January that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.
Legislation was also enacted by the Texas legislature last year requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.
A pair of Michigan senators also introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
In a setback for the movement, California activists on Wednesday announced that they have come up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
Colorado activists, meanwhile, recently selected one of the four psychedelics reform ballot initiatives that they drafted and filed for the November ballot, choosing to proceed with a measure to legalize psilocybin, create licensed “healing centers” where people can use the psychedelic for therapeutic purposes and provide a pathway for record sealing for prior convictions. A competing campaign filed a different psychedelics legalization last month.
Michigan activists filed a statewide ballot initiative last month that would legalize possessing, cultivating and sharing psychedelics and set up a system for their therapeutic and spiritual use.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.