The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) says that it would be prudent for the state to legalize certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA to prepare for a likely federal policy change allowing their use for medical treatment.
At a hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last week, DOH testified on a pair of resolutions that call for the establishment of an advisory council to study and make recommendations on approving psychedelic medicines.
Members of the panel ultimately deferred action on the legislation, but there are other psychedelics bills advancing in the legislature this session, including one to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
During last week’s Senate hearing, a DOH representative said that the department is neutral on the separate resolutions being considered by the committee, adding that he didn’t think the department would be the appropriate body to oversee the proposed advisory council.
He also said that it might not necessarily make sense to form such a council to advise on possible therapeutic uses for psilocybin and MDMA given that the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems poised to authorize their use within “half a year” after designating them as “breakthrough therapies.”
“That being said, I can already predict one of the major findings of this report that this working group would produce, which is to deschedule these substances for licensed prescribers in Hawaii,” he said. “Doing so would be a much more meaningful action than a working group.”
Descheduling would allow medical professionals to “more openly discuss their experiences” in their practices, and “the market will respond,” the Health Department official said.
“Just deschedule it,” he said. “That will accelerate the community conversation because it will be in people’s hands. People will see the cause and effects of them and that will propel this discussion further than a working group studying related research.”
Similarly, written testimony from the department says that “the quickest way to bring these promising substances to patients is to enact a bill to de-schedule them.”
“This would provoke a more meaningful community conversation on access than a working group since it would produce genuine action,” the submission says.
At the hearing, the representative also noted that DOH is supporting the separate House-passed bill from Rep. Adrian Tam (D) that cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last week.
Separately, the Governor’s Office of Wellness & Resilience submitted written testimony in support of the resolutions being considered at Friday’s hearing.
“Research being conducted on use of alternative therapies to treat mental health disorders has shown promising outcomes,” it said. “Having the discussion in our state will assist in making data informed decisions on how we should address and resource attention on complex social issues, like mental health. This advisory council can provide an ongoing venue to have the continuous conversation so when new therapies become known, the review of literature can occur through this mechanism and issues don’t go unaddressed.”
“As negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to show up in our daily lives, promising interventions for mental health disorders should be included in conversations relating to trauma,” the office argued.
Meanwhile, a Hawaii Senate-passed bill to legalize marijuana has stalled out in the House for the year—but advocates are shifting focus to 2024, hoping to enact the reform in the second half of the two-year legislative session.
The legislation from Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D) cleared the Senate earlier this month, and hopes were high that it’d make it through the House as well. But a hearing wasn’t scheduled before a deadline for bills that have been referred to three or more committees, meaning it will need to wait until next year to potentially advance further.
Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions, but while the reform was approved in the Senate in 2021, it stalled after failing to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Advocates struggled under former Democratic governor, Dave Ige, who has resisted legalization, in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
But now that Gov. Josh Green (D) has been sworn in, activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be utilized.