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Hawaii Senators Approve Two Psychedelic Research Bills With Support From Governor’s Office



A Hawaii Senate committee has approved a bill to promote studies into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and other alternative treatments for mental health conditions, while also advancing another measure that more narrowly focuses on psilocybin research only.

Both measures cleared the Senate Ways & Means Committee with unanimous votes after receiving supportive testimony from the governor’s office. They next head to the Senate floor.

The broader bill to create a “beneficial treatments advisory council” is being sponsored by Sen. Chris Lee (D), and perviously moved through another panel earlier this month.

The separate proposal to establish a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin specifically is being carried by Sen. Ron Kouchi (D).

The panel adopted technical amendments to both bills before approving them.

Here’s what Lee’s SB 1531 would accomplish: 

An advisory council would be created, tasked with exploring state and federal regulations on certain psychedelics, in addition to reviewing scientific literature related to using them for mental health treatment.

It would also require the advisory council to develop a “long-term strategic plan to ensure the availability of therapeutic psilocybin, psilocybin-based products, and [MDMA] that are safe, accessible, and affordable for adults twenty—one years of age or older.”

The nine-member council would consist of five ex officio voting members—including the state attorney general and director of health—and four additional members with backgrounds in medicine, psychedelics advocacy and academia.

The advisory council would fall under the governor’s Office of Wellness and Resiliency (OWR). As introduced, it would have been under the state Department of Health, but that was amended in an earlier committee.

“The legislature finds that mental health conditions are treated in various ways, depending on the condition, and can include medication, therapy, and psychosocial services,” the bill text says, adding that psilocybin and MDMA have been designated as breakthrough therapies by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Research supports that the effectiveness of natural and alternative medicines and therapies, such as the use of MDMA, psilocybin, and other therapies, as being safe and effective ways to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, end-of-life psychological distress, and other afflictions,” it continues.

The governor’s OWR said in written testimony that “research being conducted on use of alternative therapies to treat mental health disorders has shown promising outcomes.”

“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,” it said. “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.”

Last week, on the House side of the legislature, lawmakers in the Health and Homelessness Committee approved a companion version of the bill from Rep. Adrian Tam (D) in a 7-0 vote.

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Here’s what Kouchi’s SB 1454 would achieve: 

The legislation would direct a new therapeutic psilocybin working group to examine the “medicinal and therapeutic effects of psilocybin to treat conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and end-of-life psychological distress.”

Its members would also examine the effectiveness of such therapies in Oregon and Colorado, where medicinal psilocybin has been recently legalized.

They would also need to develop a long-term plan to “ensure the safe availability and accessibility of affordable, therapeutic psilocybin and psilocybin-based products for adults twenty-one years of age or older.”

The working group would be comprised of the state’s top health official or a designee, the state attorney general or a designee, leadership of relevant legislative standing committees, a physician, a psychiatrist and more.

“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 governor’s OWR said in a written testimony ahead of the committee hearing. “To make informed decisions on how we should address and resource attention on complex social issues like mental health disorders and trauma, research needs to be examined.”

The House companion version of this legislation that’s being sponsored by Rep. Amy Perruso (D) was recently taken up by the House Health & Homelessness Committee, but action was deferred.

There’s been significant interest in psychedelics policy in the Aloha State this session, with a main focus on creating a research framework that could inform future legislation on providing regulated access to the substances.

Sen. Stanley Chang (D) recently filed a Senate concurrent resolution that would request a “Medicinal Psilocybin and Psilocin Working Group” to study local, state and federal laws on the entheogens, existing scientific literature on the therapeutic value of the fungi and possible the medical protocol for administering psilocybin.

That resolution has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but it hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing yet.

Separately, a pair of bills to legalize marijuana in Hawaii were approved in Senate committee last week.

Both measures seek to end prohibition and create a system of regulated cannabis commerce for adults 21 and older, but the question remains as to which might ultimately serve as the vehicle for the reform this session.

Newly inaugurated Gov. Josh Green (D) supports legalizing marijuana.

Meanwhile, when it comes to psychedelics, reform bills have been introduced in more than a dozen states across the U.S. this legislative session.

Last week, for example, a Washington State Senate committee voted to dramatically overhaul to a psilocybin services bill, removing sections that would have legalized use of the psychedelic drug by adults.

Oklahoma lawmakers approved bill in committee last week to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin while providing legal protections against prosecution for people with eligible conditions who possess the psychedelic.

Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire and Utah are also some of the latest states where lawmakers are working to advance the issue.

Virginia lawmakers rejected a bill last month that would have allow people with serious mental health conditions to possess and use psilocybin mushrooms with a doctor’s recommendation. Then, last week, a Virginia Senate-passed measure to create a psilocybin advisory board and reschedule the psychedelic was killed in a committee of the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.

Legislators in Connecticut and Massachusetts have also filed bills to revise laws governing entheogenic plants and fungi.

New York Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D) filed legislation to legalize certain psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine for adults 21 and older. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) also recently signed a bill mandating that the state immediately reschedule or deschedule Schedule I drugs like MDMA and psilocybin if they’re reclassified under federal law.

Bipartisan Washington State senators also recently unveiled a revised bill to legalize psilocybin services for adults.

There are also psychedelics reform efforts underway in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New Jersey and Oregon.

An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last month concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill That’s Sponsored By Top Republican And Democratic Lawmakers

Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.

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