A pair of Washington State lawmakers this week introduced legislation that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
If enacted, the Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunity Act would allow individuals to consume products containing psilocybin and psilocin, the two main active ingredients in psychedelic mushrooms, under the support of a trained and state-licensed psilocybin service administrator.
While most people would need to go into a licensed service center, those with certain medical conditions, including those unable to travel, could qualify to receive psilocybin products at home and meet with facilitators remotely.
Mason Marks, a senior fellow and project lead on the Project at Psychedelics Law and Regulation at Harvard Law School who helped to draft some sections of the bill, told Marijuana Moment that it “builds on the momentum of previous psilocybin policy reform efforts in Seattle and across the country.”
Voters in neighboring Oregon passed an initiative in 2020 to legalize supported psilocybin treatment for mental health. That program is currently in a two-year development phase, with license applications expected to be accepted starting next January. Seattle, meanwhile, became the largest U.S. city to decriminalize psychedelics following a City Council resolution in October.
The new statewide Washington bill would establish a legal, regulated psilocybin industry available to all adults of legal age.
“Under supported adult use, psilocybin services are made available to people 21 and older for nearly any purpose,” Mason Marks, a senior fellow and project lead on the Project at Psychedelics Law and Regulation at Harvard Law School, who helped author the bill, said in a blog post about the bill. “The Act specifies that clients need not have a medical condition to participate, and psilocybin services in Washington will not constitute medical diagnoses or treatment.”
Nationally and internationally recognized medical institutions have shown that psilocybin can help treat “a variety of of behavioral health conditions,” the bill, sponsored by Sens. Jesse Salomon (D) and Liz Lovelett (D), says, “including but not limited to addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, and end-of-life psychological distress.”
Salomon told Marijuana Moment that while mental health issues are exacerbated amid the COVID pandemic, “it is exciting to know that research shows that guided, safe and certified psilocybin services have some of the best results compared to any therapy in curing addiction, anxiety, depression and addressing inner challenges people face.”
“This is a practice as old as humanity itself and it is time to incorporate this opportunity to heal into our toolbox here in Washington state,” he said. “We should not deny ourselves the benefits of these services when there is so much suffering in our communities.”
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A media representative for Salomon told Marijuana Moment the bill “basically follows the thrust” of Oregon’s psilocybin initiative “but incorporates some modifications to address problems Oregon encountered with implementation.”
Under the legislation, SB 5660, the state Department of Health would issue licenses and regulate the new industry. The act would further establish the Washington Psilocybin Advisory Board within the department to advise on issues such as available scientific and social research, best practices for supported use as well as criteria for the bill’s social opportunity program.
“This bill is unique because it focuses on access, opportunity, and equity in ways no previous bill has,” Marks told Marijuana Moment, pointing to the legislation’s provision for home services and an option for would-be facilitators to complete most training from home. The bill’s social opportunity program, he said, “will provide reduced licensing fees, training, and other benefits to licensees from lower income parts of the state.”
Thrilled to announce SB5660 The WA #Psilocybin Services Wellness & Opportunity Act, which I had the privilege to help draft. Thanks to Sen Salomon @SenLizLovelett @DecrimNatureSEA & John Rapp @HarrisBricken#psychedelic #health #law @UNHLaw @PetrieFlom
— Mason Marks, MD, JD (@MasonMarksMD) January 5, 2022
Washington’s Health Department would need to adopt rules for a “comprehensive regulatory framework” during an 18-month development period following the bill’s passage. The department must begin receiving applications to manufacture psilocybin products, operate a service center, facilitate psilocybin services or test products beginning January 2, 2024.
Services wouldn’t be permitted within the limits of an incorporated city or town unless that jurisdiction specifically allowed them, nor could they be located in areas zoned exclusively for residential use. With some exceptions, they would also need to be more than 1,000 feet from elementary or secondary schools. Until 2026, licensees would need to be residents of Washington or entities with majority ownership and control by Washington residents.
To qualify for the social opportunity program, applicants or more than half of their employees would need to be from low-income “distressed areas,” designated by enrollment in the federal free lunch program, or meet other criteria to be established by the Health Department during the program’s development period.
John Rapp, an attorney at the cannabis-focused firm Harris Bricken who also helped to draft the legislation, told Marijuana Moment in an email that he was “especially excited at the inclusion of the innovative Social Opportunity Program,” adding that such equity measures are a “big piece missing in drug decrim.” (Washington lawmakers adopted the state’s first social equity program legal marijuana only in 2020, several years into legalization.)
Employers would be barred under the new proposal from discriminating against people for receiving legal psilocybin services unless they showed visible impairment at work and couldn’t test workers unless they exhibit “clear, observable symptoms of impairment.”
Last October, Seattle’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline. The measure extended what was already city policy not to arrest or prosecute people for personal drug possession to further protect the cultivation and sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi for “religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices.”
Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who introduced the resolution, told Marijuana Moment in an interview that he believed “we’re in a position where, I think, we could see movement pretty quickly from the state,” noting that he’s received very little blowback from constituents about his own proposal.
Seattle’s resolution was inspired in part by the City Council’s interest in reducing opioid-related deaths. Members in June formally asked a local task force studying the overdose crisis to examine “public policy governing psychedelic medicines.” Three months later, the task force recommended the city decriminalize psychedelics and consider removing criminal penalties around all drugs. Members of the advocacy group Decrim Nature Seattle, meanwhile, had spent more than two years lobbying the council to end penalties for cultivating and sharing psychedelics.
Washington lawmakers last legislative session considered a bill that would have removed all penalties for possession of relatively small, “personal use” amounts of drugs and instead invested in treatment and recovery services. While that legislation died in committee, lawmakers from both parties acknowledged at the time that the state’s drug control apparatus was broken.
Shortly thereafter, the state Supreme Court overturned Washington’s felony law against drug possession completely, sending lawmakers scrambling to replace the law. Ultimately they approved a modest reform, reducing the state’s felony charge for drug possession to a misdemeanor and earmarking more money for treatment. But the law’s criminal penalties will expire in 2023, an effort to encourage lawmakers to revisit the policy.
Last September, officials in the state attorney general’s office joined in the effort of cancer patients and palliative care workers who are suing the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for access to psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws, which allow patients with terminal conditions to try investigational medications that have not been approved for general use.
Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, co-director for the Advanced Integrated Medical Science (AIMS) Institute, one of the plaintiffs in that case, told Marijuana Moment in an email Wednesday that while the 69-page psilocybin bill introduced this week has “too many details to comment on,” he was happy to see the legislation introduced and thinks it’s a step in the right direction.
“I believe it could be more permissive and respectful of freedom and include clear decriminalization of psilocybin along with licensed use frameworks, to show respect for traditional and customary use of psilocybin by the people of the state,” he said. “Additionally, I would like to see some kind of fast track pathway created for those who may have shortened life expectancies and will not be able to wait the 18 months that are proposed here for rule making and implementation. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or make this terribly onerous.”
Jurisdictions across the country are increasingly removing or reducing penalties around drug possession and consumption, especially when it comes to psychedelics. Since Denver in 2019 became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, a number of states and municipalities have made similar changes.
Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives in 2020 to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs, and Washington, D.C. voters approved a ballot measure that year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.
Other states have passed more moderate measures, for example Connecticut, which last year passed a law requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. Texas also adopted a law last year to study the benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.
California made a push to legalize psychedelics possession last year, and while that measure was put on pause, the bill’s sponsor says he has plans to move it across the finish line this year. Lawmakers in other large states, including Florida and New York have recently filed psychedelics reform bills.
How federal prosecutors would respond to legal psilocybin in Washington state is still an open question. The new bill notes that officials will attempt to meet with federal prosecutors in the state “to discuss this chapter and potential federal enforcement policies regarding psilocybin in Washington after the expiration of the 18-month program development period.”
Governors Across The U.S. Tout Marijuana Reform Progress In State Of The State Speeches And Budgets
Governors across the U.S. have been taking the opportunity to tout marijuana reform accomplishments as part of their annual State of the State speeches and budget requests this month.
From New York to South Dakota, the comments and proposals from state executives demonstrate how cannabis has become more mainstream and is being talked about in high profile venues alongside more traditional fare such as taxes, education and infrastructure.
It’s also part of a growing theme, as governors have increasingly brought up marijuana policy in State of the State addresses each year to kick off the new year as the legalization movement spreads.
Here’s a look at what governors are saying about marijuana policy in 2022:
While adult-use marijuana retail sales have yet to launch in New Jersey after voters approved a 2020 legalization referendum, the state’s top executive said in his State of the State address that he’s expecting an economic boon.
“Many jobs await in the cannabis industry ready to take off,” Gov. Phil Murphy (R) said.
The governor also said separately in his second inaugural address this month that “businesses in the new cannabis industry that we are setting up in the name of social justice” are part of efforts to “continue growing the innovation economy that will power our future and make us a model for the nation and the world.”
Businesses on the cutting edge of new technologies that will revolutionize our grasp of the possible.
Businesses in the new cannabis industry that we are setting up in the name of social justice.
In online gaming and sports betting, which we now dominate.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 18, 2022
As the state prepares to implement legal cannabis sales, Murphy said late last year that he’s open to giving adults the right to cultivate marijuana for personal use even though it’s not currently written into the law.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) talked in here State of the State speech about the economic potential of the marijuana industry under the legalization law she signed last year.
“We’re expanding our economic footprint into every single community,” the governor said in her State of the State address. “Legal cannabis is going to create thousands of jobs and serious tax revenue for local governments to support local services in every corner of our state.”
Legal cannabis is going to create thousands of jobs & serious tax revenue to support local services.
Clean hydrogen will support thousands of jobs, especially in rural New Mexico, while helping us sprint toward our net-zero carbon deadlines and decarbonize transportation.
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) January 18, 2022
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.
The governor said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”
That proposal was also cited in Hochul’s executive budget, which was released last week. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.
The briefing book for the executive budget touts how Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has “prioritized getting New York’s cannabis industry up and running” since marijuana was legalized under her predecessor last year. That includes appointing key regulators who’ve been “creating and implementing a comprehensive regulatory framework.”
The governor of Rhode Island included a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his annual budget plan—the second time he’s done so. And time around, he also added new language to provide for automatic cannabis expungements in the state.
Gov. Dan McKee (D) released his request for the 2023 fiscal year on Thursday, calling for adult-use legalization as lawmakers say they’re separately nearing a deal on enacting the reform. It appears that an outstanding disagreement between the governor and legislators concerning what body should regulate the program remains unresolved based on the new budget proposal, however.
In general, McKee’s plan would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, though it would not provide a home grow option. Adults could also store up to five ounces of marijuana in secured storage in their primary residence.
“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” an executive summary states. “This proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on marijuana cultivation, an additional retail excise tax of 10 percent, and also apply sales tax to cannabis transactions.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) isn’t a fan of adult-use legalization, going so far as to fund a lawsuit against a voter-approved 2020 reform initiative that ultimately led to a court ruling voiding the law. Her office has even suggested that activists behind the successful legalization campaign should front the legal bills for the case.
However, she seems to recognize the popularity of the issue and has recently attempted to associate herself with the implementation of the separate medical cannabis legalization law that voters also approved, as she did in her State of the State address this month.
“I take our citizens’ health seriously. I don’t make these decisions lightly. And when we create new policy, we’re going to do everything we can to get it right from day one,” Noem said. “Our state’s medical cannabis program is one example.”
“It was launched on schedule according to the timeline passed by South Dakota voters,” she said. “I know there will be some debate about that program this session. My focus is on making sure South Dakota has the safest, most responsible, and well-run medical cannabis program in the country.”
Noem tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation of the medical cannabis program for an additional year, but while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, delivering a defeat to the governor.
In response, her office started exploring a compromise last year, with one proposal that came out of her administration to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, limit the number of plants that patients could cultivate to three and prohibit people under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.
Advocates weren’t enthused with the proposal, and now they’re taking a two-track approach to enacting broader legalization legislatively and through the ballot.
In his final State of the Commonwealth address this month, now former-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) talked about the criminal justice implications of his state’s move to legalize marijuana last year.
“We also worked closely with you to make sure our criminal justice system reflects the Virginia that we are today. Too often, our modern-day punishments and practices have their roots in a more discriminatory and unfair past,” he said. “That’s why we’ve made marijuana use legal.”
Too often, our modern-day punishments and practices have their roots in a more discriminatory and unfair past.
That’s why we’ve made marijuana use legal. That’s also why we have ended use of the death penalty in Virginia—the first southern state to do so. #VASOTC
— Governor Ralph Northam (@VAGovernor73) January 13, 2022
He also thanked the legislators who championed the reform “for their work on this policy, which is complicated, but important.”
Meanwhile, the new governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, said recently that while he’s not interested in re-criminalizing marijuana possession, which became legal in the state last summer, but he feels there’s “still work to be done” before he gets behind creating a market for commercial sales and production.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Virginia GOP Lawmakers Begin Forming Plans For Marijuana Sales Launch
“There will be a bill. There may be multiple bills. But something is going to come out of this chamber.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
GOP lawmakers in the Virginia House of Delegates are taking their first stab at legislation to open the retail marijuana market, introducing bills that would lower the tax rate on sales and redirect proposed social equity funding to school infrastructure.
But leadership in the chamber stressed that the effort remains very much a work in progress and that they expect plenty of changes as the legislation makes its way through the committee system.
“We’ll come up with something,” said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Speaker Todd Gilbert, said last week. “There will be a bill. There may be multiple bills. But something is going to come out of this chamber.”
Republicans unanimously opposed legalization when Democrats voted last year to allow people to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. But Democratic lawmakers’ decision to leave it until this year to finalize the particulars of how a legal retail market would work—combined with the loss of their House majority in November—has left the once-reluctant GOP with a key role in deciding how to proceed.
Gilbert said that while his caucus opposed legalization, he views it as imperative to come up with a mechanism for legal sales, complaining that the legal framework left in place by Democrats has only empowered the black market.
The party has so-far left the heavy lifting on that front to Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier, who was among a handful of GOP lawmakers to support reducing penalties for marijuana possession two years ago and is the only member of the party to introduce a comprehensive bill governing retail sales.
While his bill largely tracks with legislation introduced by Democrats in the House and Senate, it diverges in a few key areas.
First, it halves the proposed tax rate on retail sales from 21 percent to 10 percent, which would be the lowest in the country. Webert called the step important to compete with the black market, citing the experience of California, where the combined tax rate on sales is just over 36 percent.
“They have an ungodly huge black market,” Webert said. “So we don’t want the taxes so high that we drive things to the black market.”
His bill also changes how the money would be spent.
Social equity and schools
Democrats centered their legalization effort around social equity provisions aimed at making amends for disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws in Black communities. To that end, they proposed that 35 percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales be dedicated to a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which the law proposed be dedicated to providing scholarships, community programs and business loans to people and communities “historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement.”
Webert’s bill eliminates that fund, instead proposing the revenue for a new grant program to help local governments pay for the cost of repairing or replacing roofs.
Finding more state funds to fix decrepit school buildings has been a focus for some Republicans recently and Webert said his approach would benefit both rural and urban areas that have struggled with the issue.
Webert also proposes tweaking—but not eliminating—a program devised by Democrats to give people negatively impacted by prohibition priority access to marijuana business licenses.
His legislation strikes criteria that would have extended preference to people convicted of marijuana crimes in the past — something that GOP lawmakers vocally opposed last year. But it maintains language that would allow priority access for people who live in areas that were subject to higher than average enforcement or are economically disadvantaged. It also maintains eligibility for people who attended a Virginia historically black college or university.
Referendums, unions and resentencing
The bill also includes subtler departures from the approach proposed by Democrats. For instance both bills allow localities to hold referendums to opt out of marijuana sales, but the GOP bill would bind towns to the decision of their surrounding county while the Democratic bill treats them as independent jurisdictions. (Legislation from two GOP delegates goes further, barring any retail marijuana stores unless sales are specifically approved by a local referendum.)
The GOP bill also drops languages that would block local governments from passing new zoning rules that apply only to marijuana businesses.
And it strikes language that was aimed at promoting unionization in the new industry by refusing to license business owners who oppose unionization efforts by employees or rely heavily on independent contractors.
For now, Republicans and Democrats have proposed similar stances on resentencing for people currently imprisoned on marijuana charges, allowing them to petition a judge to reconsider their sentence, though the GOP bill excludes people convicted of distributing the drug to minors.
A bill authored by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, goes further, proposing automatic resentencing hearings.
Both chambers have also introduced separate legislation to move the date retail sales can begin from 2024 to 2023—a key recommendation from lawmakers tasked with studying the issue over the summer.
The chambers differ, however, on whether to include large hemp processors in the stop-gap program. The House version limits early sales to existing medical producers. The Senate version allows large industrial hemp processors to also enter the market early.
So far, none of the bills have been docketed in the House of Delegates and it remains unclear when debate on the measures will begin in earnest.
Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants
A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.
Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) first announced their intent to file the legislation in November, arguing that it is a necessary reform to ensure patient access by giving people a less costly alternative to buying from dispensaries.
Registered patients who are 21 and older, and who have been residents of the state for at least 30 days, could grow up to six plants in an “enclosed and locked space” at their residence, according to the text of the bill. They would be allowed to buy cannabis seeds from licensed dispensaries
SB1024 – Senator Sharif Street and I worked diligently to get our Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation Bill introduced.
— Senator Dan Laughlin (@senatorlaughlin) January 21, 2022
In an earlier cosponsorship memo for the new home grow bill, the lawmakers said that letting patients cultivate their own medicine would “help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine.”
The new legislation has three other initial cosponsors in addition to Street and Laughlin.
Street had attempted to get the reform enacted as an amendment to an omnibus bill this summer, but it did not advance.
The senators argue that patients in particular are deserving of a home grow option, as some must currently travel hours to visit a licensed dispensary and there are financial burdens that could be alleviated if patients could grow their own plants for medicine.
Late last year, Laughlin and Street also unveiled a separate adult-use legalization proposal that faces significant challenges in the GOP-controlled legislature. And Street is behind another recent cannabis measure to provide state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with cannabis businesses.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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In the interim, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment through an expedited petition program.
Pennsylvania lawmakers could also take up more modest marijuana reform proposals like a bill filed late last year to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.
Rep. Amen Brown (D) separately announced his intent to file a legalization bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.
Additionally, another pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing last year.
Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization in November that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said last year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released last year found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.
An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last year, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.