Maryland Lawmakers Discuss Senate-Passed Bill To Fund Psychedelics Research And Access For Veterans
A Maryland House of Delegates panel on Monday took up a Senate-passed bill to create a state fund that could be used to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.
The bill was considered in the House Appropriations Committee, where members heard testimony about the necessity of the reform. The panel’s discussion comes weeks after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation from Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D).
This development also comes days after the Maryland legislature agreed to put marijuana legalization on the state’s November ballot and sent the governor complementary legislation concerning initial rules for the program if voters approve the policy change.
The psychedelics proposal as revised by senators would establish what’s being called the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury Alternative Therapies Fund. As originally introduced, the legislation did not include the traumatic brain injury language.
“I feel very strongly that this bill has the potential to save lives,” Elfreth said in her opening remarks to delegates on Monday. “Unfortunately, an average of 22 veterans a day in this country commit suicide. We have a lot more work ahead of us to provide adequate mental health support to those veterans and our heroes returning to this country.”
Elfreth pointed to ongoing trials into the benefits of psychedelics at Johns Hopkins University, located in Maryland, and other research institutions.
“We heard testimony in the Senate from a world-leading scientist doing these trials with the very positive results that they’re seeing,” she said.
Last month, the House Appropriations Committee considered nearly identical companion legislation sponsored by Del. Seth Howard (R). Members on that panel adopted several amendments to more closely align the legislation in both chambers, though that legislative vehicle did not advance ahead of the crossover deadline, with the focus now being on the similar Senate bill.
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The legislation that the committee discussed on Monday stipulates that funds must be used to study “the use of alternative therapies for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.”
Further, it seeks to provide “cost-free access” to psychedelics for eligible veterans.
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.
The purpose of the partnerships would be to determine the “effectiveness of and a method for improving access to alternative therapies for treating” PTSD and traumatic brain injury in veterans. They would also consult on “appropriate uses of the fund that further the fund’s purpose.”
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 and traumatic brain injuries,” the bill text states.
For fiscal year 2024, the bill calls for the governor to include $1 million in an annual budget bill for the fund.
“This is an unorthodox bill, and I completely understand that,” the Senate sponsor said. “But these treatments will not be funded by the federal [Department of Veterans Affairs] anytime soon. We are in crisis mode as it relates to, unfortunately, the high rate of suicide amongst our veterans community. This is an unorthodox bill for a critical problem that we need to address.”
Maryland is one of numerous states where psychedelics reform is being taken up this session.
Last week, for example, Georgia lawmakers advanced a bipartisan 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.
The governor of Utah last month signed a bill to create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
A Missouri House committee also held a hearing last month on a GOP-led bill to legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.
A Connecticut legislative committee approved a bill last month that would set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment with substances like MDMA and psilocybin. Connecticut 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 Washington State legislature recently 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 month, 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 month, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill 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 last month—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.
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.
Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania bill meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms for certain mental health conditions may be in jeopardy, with the sponsor saying that the chair of a key House committee is expressing reservations even after the legislation was amended in an effort to build support.
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.
In a setback for the movement, California activists recently 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.
Michigan activists have launched a mass signature drive to place a measure on this November’s statewide ballot to legalize possessing, cultivating and sharing psychedelics while setting up a system for their therapeutic and spiritual use. The state Board of State Canvassers certified the latest version of initiative last month.
At the local level, a third Michigan city, Hazel Park, approved a measure last week to decriminalize psychedelics.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in January, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
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