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Massachusetts Governor Files Bill To Create Psychedelic Therapy Working Group For Veterans As Activists Push Legalization On Ballot



The governor of Massachusetts filed a bill to create a psychedelics working group to study and make recommendations about the potential therapeutic benefits of substances like psilocybin and MDMA for military veterans.

Weeks after activists turned in what they believe to be enough signatures to force Massachusetts lawmakers to consider a psychedelics legalization measure, Gov. Maura Healey (D) introduced large-scale legislation focused on veterans that includes a section on psychedelic-assisted therapy.

The governor’s proposal wouldn’t immediately create a framework for legal access, but it would require the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS) to convene a working group to study “alternative therapies for mental health treatments for veterans” and exploring “whether psychedelic therapy is associated with improved outcomes among veterans with diagnosed mental health disorders.”

The panel would need to “evaluate literature, research trials and expert opinions to determine in psychedelic therapy is associated with improved outcomes regarding mental health treatment for veterans.” And it would be required to issue recommendations “regarding the provision of psychedelic therapy to treat veterans with mental health disorders in Massachusetts.”

The legislation limits the scope of psychedelics that should be studied to psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine.

The secretary of EOVS would need to appoint to the working group two members representing medical centers that serve veterans, two members representing health insurance companies, two members representing veterans service organizations, one member representing an organization that’s currently studying psychedelics therapy and any additional members seen fit to complete the research.

The working group would need to file a report with findings and recommendations with the clerks of the House and Senate and two joint legislative committees no later than January 1, 2025.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and this transformative legislation marks an important step toward ensuring that Massachusetts supports them in return,” Healey said in a press release. “From day one, our administration has been committed to revitalizing veterans’ services in Massachusetts and ensuring that every one of these heroes receives the benefits, resources and support that they deserve.

At a press conference on Thursday, the governor listed the alternative therapies working group as one of the bill’s key provision, saying that “we need to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can here in Massachusetts to help veterans heal and thrive in our state.”

The proposal is just one component of an omnibus package called the Honoring, Empowering and Recognizing Our Servicemembers and Veterans (HERO Act) that was unveiled last week. But it’s one that comes at a time when activists are pushing the legislature to go further by broadly legalizing psychedelics for adults.

Rather than wait until 2025 for a working group to make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for a specific population, the measure from Massachusetts for Mental Health Options would create a regulatory framework for lawful and supervised access to psychedelics at licensed facilities.

The initiative, which is backed by the national New Approach PAC, would also legalize the possession, gifting and cultivation of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca, but it would not otherwise provide for commercial retail sales of the substances.

Activists say they’ve internally verified more than 75,000 signatures that were turned in to the state to get the legislature to consider the reform. If that’s confirmed and lawmakers subsequently decline to act by May 1, the campaign could collect an additional 12,429 signatures to put the issue before voters next November.

It remains to be seen whether the governor’s proposal will affect conversations in the legislature about advancing psychedelics reform, potentially influencing certain lawmakers to wait for the administrative recommendations before moving on legalization.

Local activists with Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM), which has previously endorsed the New Approach PAC initiative but is now criticizing the proposed regulatory model, thanked the governor for including the psychedelics language in her veterans legislation and added that lawmakers “must change” the separate ballot measure.

BSNM argued that the campaign’s initiative as drafted would lead to prohibitively expensive psychedelics services, which has been a key critique of the voter-approved psilocybin law that’s being implemented in Oregon.

Here are the key details of the Massachusetts campaign’s Natural Psychedelic Substances Act:

  • Adults 21 and older could legally possess, grow and share certain amounts of psychedelics.
  • The covered psychedelics and possession limits are: DMT (one gram), non-peyote mescaline (18 grams), ibogaine (30 grams), psilocybin (one gram) and psilocin (one gram). Those weight limits do not include any material that the active substances are attached to or part of.
  • The penalty for possession of amounts of up to double the limit would be a $100 civil fine, with amounts above that remaining criminalized.
  • A Natural Psychedelic Substances Commission would be created to oversee the implementation of the law and licensing of service centers and facilitators.
  • The body, which is modeled on the state’s existing Cannabis Control Commission, would be required to enact rules for regulated access of at least one psychedelic by April 1, 2026. Regulations for the rest of the substances would need to be created by April 1, 2028. It would also need to start accepting applications by September 30, 2026.
  • A Natural Psychedelic Substances Advisory Board would “study and make recommendations” to the commission about issues such as public health, regulations, training for facilitators, affordable and equitable access, traditional use of psychedelics and future rules, including possible additions to the list of legal substances.
  • Psychedelics purchased at licensed facilities would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, and localities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax if they permit the centers to operate in their area. Revenue would be used to fund regulation of the program.
  • There are no provisions on expunging prior convictions for activities that would be made legal.
  • Local governments could enact regulations on the time, location and manner of service centers, but they could not outright ban them from operating in their area.
  • Adults could propagate psychedelics in a maximum 12X12 ft. space.
  • There would be civil legal protections related to professional licensure, child custody and public benefits for people who participate in a legalized psychedelic activity.
  • The effective date of the law would be December 15, 2024. The commission and advisory board would need to be created by March 1, 2025.

Meanwhile, BSNM—which has helped enact local policies to deprioritize enforcement of laws against psychedelics in SalemSomervilleCambridgeEasthamptonNorthampton and Amherst—is separately backing psychedelics legislation filed by bipartisan lawmakers this year.

For example, a Republican legislator filed three psychedelics reform bills in April, including proposals to legalize substances like psilocybin and reschedule MDMA pending federal approval while setting a price cap on therapeutic access.

Rep. Mike Connolly (D) also filed a bill in 2021 that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing on studying the implications of legalizing entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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