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Maryland Lawmakers Discuss Bill To Fund Psychedelics Research And Access For Veterans In Committee



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 measure, which is being considered as separate proposals to legalize marijuana in the state are advancing in the legislature, would also support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances.

The House Appropriations Committee discussed the legislation, sponsored by Del. Seth Howard (R), weeks after the Senate Budget and Taxation and Finance Committee took up that chamber’s companion version from Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D).

The proposal would establish what’s being called the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Alternative Therapies Fund. In addition to funding research into psychedelics through the state Department of Health, the dollars would also be appropriated under the bill to improve “access to alternative therapies for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“The use of alternative therapies and treatment of PTSD for active duty members and veterans has proven to be an extremely powerful tool in combating the ongoing suicide epidemic that we all know our veteran community is facing,” Howard said at Tuesday’s hearing.

“Legislators across the country are realizing that we must utilize every tool we have at our disposal to help bring an end to the suicide epidemic that is taking the lives of so many of our veterans,” the delegate said.

While the Senate and House versions are virtually identical, the Senate bill specifies that the fund could be used to provide “cost-free” access to those alternative treatments, rather than simply to improve access as is the case in the House measure.

The state Department of Health would be required to “periodically” consult with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Sheppard Pratt hospital and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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The purpose of the partnerships would be to determine the “effectiveness of and a method for improving access to alternative therapies for treating” PTSD in veterans. They would also consult on “appropriate uses of the fund that further the fund’s purpose.”

Howard, the bill sponsor, said that he’s filed three amendments to more closely align the House version with the Senate’s, including by revising the bill title and adding the organization Brain Futures to the list of groups that the department could work with on the measure’s research objectives.

The department would need to first submit a report to the governor and legislation with “initial findings and recommendations” by December 1, 2022. Two years later, there would be another deadline for findings and recommendations that are based on studies that were specifically funded through the PTSD fund.

The recommendations would focus on “budgetary, legislative, or regulatory changes to expand access to alternative therapies for veterans with post–traumatic stress disorder,” the bill text states.

“General fund expenditures increase by $37,954 in fiscal 2023, which accounts for a 30-day start-up delay from the bill’s July 1, 2022 effective date,” a fiscal analysis states. “General fund expenditures increase by $1.0 million in fiscal 2024 to reflect the bill’s mandated appropriation.”

At the Senate committee hearing earlier this month, the sponsor, Elfreth, listed several states that have “passed critical legislation that provides financial support to veterans seeking alternative treatments [for conditions] such as PTSD.”

“This battle needs to be won one state at a time until Congress acts, and today I’m asking that Maryland take this important step forward,” she said.

To the senator’s point, psychedelics reform is gaining traction in numerous state legislatures across the country this session.

For example, a Connecticut legislative committee on Monday discussed a bill that would set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment with substances like MDMA and psilocybin. Former top military officials, advocates and scientists testified in favor of the proposal.

The governor of that state, Democratic Ned Lamont, signed a 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Colorado activists 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.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland, there are at least five competing marijuana reform bills in play this session in the legislature.

The House passed legislation last month that would ask voters whether to legalize cannabis for adults in the state, as well as a separate bill that lays out related criminal justice reforms. On the Senate side, two competing proposals have been introduced and are pending in committee.

A newly released poll shows that a majority of Marylanders support the legalization of adult-use cannabis, including most Republicans.

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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