Lawmakers in Connecticut and Florida have filed new bills to reform state laws on psilocybin mushrooms—the latest in a trend of psychedelics proposals to emerge in 2021.
Rep. Michael Grieco (D) filed the Florida legislation on Thursday, which would establish a legal psilocybin model for therapeutic use in the state, similar to an initiative that Oregon voters approved in November. It also seeks to deprioritize criminal enforcement against a wide range of psychedelic plants and fungi.
The Connecticut bill, sponsored by Rep. Josh Elliot (D) and four other legislators, would simply create a task force responsible for studying the medical benefits of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms.
The main objective of the broader Florida legislation is to promote mental health treatment with the help of psilocybin.
The substance “has shown efficacy, tolerability, and safety in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions, including, but not limited to, addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, and end-of-life psychological distress,” the bill states, adding that Florida has “one of the highest prevalence rates of mental illness among adults in the nation.”
If approved, the Department of Health would be responsible for implementing regulations to allow people 21 and older to access psilocybin at licensed facilities where they would undergo therapeutic sessions in a clinical setting. An advisory board would be established within the department to make regulatory recommendations.
Among the bill’s priorities are to “educate the public about the safe and effective use of psilocybin,” “reduce the prevalence of mental illness,” create a long-term plan to facilitate psilocybin therapy and redirect police resources away from criminalizing people over psychedelics.
To accomplish that latter goal, the bill says the state’s law enforcement department “shall make the investigation and arrest of persons 18 years of age or older engaged in noncommercial planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi one of its lowest enforcement priorities.”
That includes “any plant or fungus of any species in which ibogaine, dimethyltryptamine, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, or psilocin occurs naturally in any form,” the legislation states.
Regulators would also be responsible for compiling research into the risks and benefits of psilocybin and publishing their findings a public site. The proposal also calls on the health department to determine whether the psychedelic products should be tracked seed-to-sale using the same system that the state’s medical marijuana program utilizes.
Just filed a bill to provide legal access to naturally-occurring solutions for depression and PTSD patients, including veterans, who are resistant to “traditional” treatments. pic.twitter.com/ZFo3TLaNKH
— Michael Grieco (@Mike_Grieco) January 29, 2021
“Florida does not have to be the last state to catch up with science every time,” Grieco said in a press release. “Between medical marijuana and climate change, our state seems to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The science regarding psilocybin is real, cannot be ignored, and soon will be a universally-accepted form of treatment in the U.S.”
“Veterans and veterans organizations should be watching closely on behalf of folks suffering from addiction, PTSD and depression,” he said. “I recognize that I have authored a very ambitious 59-page bill, but the conversation needs to start somewhere, and I am ready to work with both my Republican and Democrat colleagues to create a framework designed to help those patients who need it.”
One especially ambitious provision of the legislation concerns federal enforcement. It says that federal prosecutors “shall cease prosecution of residents of the state” for cultivating, possessing or using entheogenic plants.
Grieco told Marijuana Moment that he recognizes the state can’t mandate that federal prosecutors adopt that policy, but “we can ask.”
The Food and Drug Administration “has already approved its use for two scenarios,” he said, referring to the agency’s designation of psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy. “It was filed as-is to be ambitious but anything that moves in the process is a good thing. Would have to be greatly watered down to move.”
It remains to be seen when the bill might receiving a hearing. The lawmaker said he has “a couple more bills to file before I sit down with leadership to try to move anything.”
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 450 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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Over in Connecticut, the newly filed psilocybin bill is much more limited in scope. The text of the legislation calls for “the general statutes be amended to establish a task force to study the health benefits of psilocybin.”
Both of these proposals come on the heels of a Senate bill being introduced in Hawaii that would also establish a medical model for the lawful use of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. And in New Jersey, legislators recently passed a bill that would reduce criminal penalties for possession of the psychedelic.
These proposals can be viewed as a sign of the broader impact that local reform advocates behind a growing movement to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi are achieving. Activists have said that they hoped their local successes would move the conversation, inspiring legislatures and even Congress to take the issue seriously.
This trend can be traced back to Denver, where voters approved a first-in-the-nation initiative to decriminalize psilocybin in 2019. That was proceeded by a wave of city-level reforms, with Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, Washington, D.C. and Somerville, Massachusetts enacting policies to deprioritize enforcement of laws against psychedelics.
A California state senator also plans to file a bill to decriminalize psychedelics for the 2021 session. And lawmakers in New York, Virginia and Washington State are pushing broader reforms concerning the decriminalization of all drugs, similar to a separate ballot measure that Oregon voters approved in November.
Meanwhile, a recently formed organization—the Plant Medicine Coalition—is hoping to build on the localized momentum and bring the fight to Congress, lobbying lawmakers first to appropriate money to study the benefits of psychedelics and then to pursue broader reform.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The secretary of state and other officials pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s 6-3 ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having four congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their measure and saw 68 percent of voters approve it last year.
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.
Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below:
Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing
A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.
As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.
It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”
The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below:
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.
Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.
The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.
MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.
“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”
Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.
It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.
Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.
FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.
The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.