A Minnesota government psychedelics task force is being built out to prepare the state for the possible legalization of substances like psilocybin and ibogaine. But even though appointments to the panel are behind schedule and it missed a deadline to hold its first meeting by August 1, the lawmaker who championed its creation says he isn’t worried about the delays.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed the psychedelics legislation into law in May as part of a broader omnibus health and human services package. It establishes the Psychedelic Medicine Task Force that would be responsible for advising lawmakers on “the legal, medical, and policy issues associated with the legalization of psychedelic medicine in the state.”
So far, 20 out of 24 appointments to the body have been made, with key outstanding positions still vacant despite a statutory requirement saying they had to be filled by July 15. The mandate to hold an initial meeting by last Monday was also missed.
“We want to have as complete of a Task Force as possible for the first meeting, as one of the tasks at the first meeting is to elect a chairperson and other officers as the members deem necessary,” Scott Smith, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health, told Marijuana Moment on Thursday. “We are also in the process of hiring staff that will help support the work of the task force.”
Members are currently aiming to hold their first meeting in early fall, and they intend to submit a report to the legislature with initial findings by February 1, 2024.
— Rep. Andy Smith (@AndySmithMN) June 28, 2023
Under the law, the body will need to “survey existing studies in the scientific literature on the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelic medicine in the treatment of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder, and any other mental health conditions and medical conditions for which a psychedelic medicine may provide an effective treatment option.”
It will then develop a plan addressing “statutory changes necessary for the legalization of psychedelic medicine” and “state and local regulation of psychedelic medicine.”
The task force is required to submit its final report with findings and recommendations by January 1, 2025.
“The political aim is really to try to make this a bipartisan work—to make this legal in as responsible a way as possible,” Rep. Andy Smith (D), who sponsored a standalone bill to create the psychedelics task force this session and was appointed to serve on the body by the House speaker last week, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Saturday. “That is both from a messaging standpoint to the state at large, but also to leaders and politicians, for them to be aware of these issues and educated on these issues before party lines are drawn.”
Smith said he plans to personally introduce psychedelics regulations legislation following the 2024 election, which he hopes will see the current Democratic majority in the legislature expand.
He said that the legalization bill that results from the task force’s work will prioritize criminal justice reform, focusing on repairing the harms of criminalization while also leveraging the experience of tribal communities that have long histories with certain psychedelic substances. In that sense, he expects that Minnesota will distinguish itself from the other states that are moving ahead with various models of legalization.
Lawmakers who have also been appointed so far include Sens. Kelly Morrison (D) and Julia Coleman (R), who were appointed by bipartisan Senate leadership, as well as Rep. Nolan West (R), a member appointed by the House minority leader who also served on the bicameral conference committee that finalized Minnesota’s newly implemented marijuana legalization law.
Looking forward to serving on the new Psychedelic Medicine Task Force! Thanks to @KariDziedzic for appointing me to help advise the legislature on the legal, medical, and policy issues associated with the legalization of psychedelic medicine in the state. #MentalHealthMatters pic.twitter.com/WbyifHq9IU
— Kelly Morrison (@Morrison4MN) July 24, 2023
“We are seeing a lot of first responders suffering from PTSD,” Sen. Kelly Morrison (D), who carried the psychedelics legislation in her chamber, told The Star Tribune. “If this is a way to help people cope and recover from PTSD, that would be revolutionary.”
Smith, the House lawmaker, said that he’s not concerned about the delay in filling out the task force. While “no one likes delays,” he said that “this is one of those times where delays is great” because it reflects that officials are busy implementing other wins that the legislature enacted on a variety of issues this session—including the legalization of marijuana.
“There’s so much work and legislation being implemented in the state of Minnesota to help Minnesotans,” he said.
Kurtis Hanna, a drug policy reform advocate and lobbyist who worked on the legislation, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that it is “understandable the first psychedelic medicine task force is being delayed until almost all of the appointments have been finalized since one of the tasks at the first meeting is to elect a chairperson and other officers.”
“If the public is upset about these meetings not starting yet, I encourage them to get in touch with any Dakota or Ojibwe Tribal members they may know in Minnesota and kindly ask them to apply for a position on the task force as soon as possible,” he said. “Their voices and perspectives on psychedelic medicine are greatly needed, but so far the state has only received three applications to fill these two positions.”
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While the appointments and initial meeting have been delayed, another sign that officials are working to implement the law is the fact that the health department posted a job listing on Thursday for a “Temporary Psychedelic Medicine Advisory Taskforce Planner.” The job description says that the employee will plan and coordinate task force activities and provide administrative support.
As originally introduced as a standalone bill, Smith’s psychedelics legislation would have required the task force to look at mescaline, bufotenine, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, 2C-B, ibogaine, salvinorin A and ketamine. But it was amended in committee to focus only on psilocybin, MDMA and LSD.
At the local level, the mayor of Minneapolis issued an executive order late last month making the criminalization of possession, use and cultivation of psychedelics the city’s lowest law enforcement priority and generally preventing local resources from being used to aid federal and state actions against the substances.
Meanwhile, it became legal for adults 21 and older in Minnesota to possess and cultivate cannabis on Tuesday. And while traditional retailers are likely a year away from being licensed, one tribe was able to open a shop in Red Lake that attracted ample visitors.
A separate Minnesota law also took effect on Tuesday that legalizes drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, controlled substances residue and testing.
In addition to creating the psychedelics task force, the omnibus bill that the governor signed also included provisions to establish safe drug consumption sites—another major victory for harm reduction advocates.