As Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) works to enact marijuana reform before the end of Congress, he’s also pushing to promote access to psychedelics that he says hold therapeutic potential.
In a video posted to Twitter on Monday, the senator talked about how psychedelics like psilocybin are strictly controlled under federal law as Schedule I drugs, which places “a lot of limitations” on them.
“But at the same time, we’re having massive breakthroughs in a lot of the research,” he said, noting psilocybin and MDMA specifically “are showing incredible results for helping people with PTSD, with trauma, even with anxiety and depression.”
With my Right to Try bill, I am hoping we can quickly make these safe and effective treatments available to help people in need.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) October 17, 2022
Booker said that because of prohibition, “drugs that could help people, drugs that could save lives, are being restricted—restricted in their study, restricted in their clinical trials and delayed.”
Booker referenced bipartisan legislation that he and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) filed in July to clarify that federal “Right to Try” (RTT) laws give seriously ill patients access to Schedule I drugs, including marijuana and certain psychedelics.
He said that the intent of the bill is to “open up more avenues to take drugs that are now banned and make them accessible, especially for people that are suffering.”
“We have work to do. I hope that you’ll help me with this,” he said. “The war on drugs, we know, was a failure. It wasn’t a war on drugs. It was a war on people, especially vulnerable people. Well now, we see that some drugs, like certain psychedelics, can help vulnerable people deal with their addiction, their trauma, their anxiety, their depression and more.”
“Let’s make these drugs available for research, study and—ultimately, hopefully—for constructive application.”
While Booker’s bill would make a technical amendment to the text of the existing statute, the primary purpose is to clarify that RTT policy as signed into law by former President Donald Trump already means that patients with terminal health conditions can obtain and use investigational drugs that have undergone clinical trials, even if they’re Schedule I controlled substances.
On a related note, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), another advocate for broad drug policy reform, recently spoke about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics during a congressional committee markup.
He suggested that psychedelics policy should be part of the larger conversation about health care improvements, noting his interest in giving terminally ill patients access to investigative drugs like psilocybin, for example.
At the beginning of this year, Blumenauer led a bipartisan letter requesting that DEA allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution under federal “Right to Try” (RTT) law.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriations leaders have included language in recent spending legislation that urges federal agencies to continue supporting research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
In July, the House voted in favor of two psychedelics-related amendments to a defense bill, including one that would require a study to investigate psilocybin and MDMA as alternatives to opioids for military service members and another that would authorize the defense secretary to provide grants for studies into several psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD.
But while advocates are encouraged by these incremental developments amid the national psychedelics decriminalization movement, some lawmakers feel that Congress isn’t keeping pace with the public and the science.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s done his research and believes that natural plants and fungi like psilocybin can be a therapeutic “game changer,” but he said that it’s “embarrassing” how slow other federal lawmakers have been to evolve on the issue.
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Federal health officials have taken note of the increased adult use of certain entheogenic substances. As National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow put it earlier this year, the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently said that it is actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for prescription use.
That came in response to letters from bipartisan congressional lawmakers, state legislators and military veterans, who implored the HHS secretary to to consider establishing an “interagency taskforce on the proper use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy.”
As the psychedelics conversation picks up in Congress, local and state lawmakers from across the political spectrum have showed significant interest in the issue in recent years.
For its part, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said last week that it want to more than double the amount of marijuana that can be legally manufactured for research in 2023—and it’s also seeking to significantly increase the quota for the production of psychedelics like psilocyn, LSD and mescaline.
A top Canadian health official who heads up the country’s efforts to combat addiction recently visited Colorado, Oregon and Washington State last week to learn about their experiences implementing drug policy reform like broad decriminalization and harm reduction—meeting with the governor of Oregon and psychedelics activists, among others, on a week-long tour.
Next month, Colorado voters will get the chance to make history once again, with an initiative to legalize psychedelics possession for adults and create psilocybin “healing centers” in the state.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said during a debate on Friday that he’s currently undecided on how he will vote on the measure, despite having previously endorsed the idea of psychedelics decriminalization and talking about the therapeutic potential of the substances.
Meanwhile, Booker has also been at the forefront of efforts to pass marijuana reform legislation with what’s left of this Congress.
He said in an interview published on Monday that Congress has a “good shot” of passing modest cannabis reforms—including banking and justice provisions—during the lame duck session. He also stressed that lawmakers might not have the same opportunity if Republicans retake either chamber next year.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.