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Vermont Governor Signs Bill To Create Psychedelics Work Group, But Vetoes Drug Overdose Prevention Site Measure



Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) this week signed a bill into law to create a psychedelic-assisted therapy working group that will make recommendations on whether and how the state should regulate legal access to substances such as psilocybin and MDMA. The governor vetoed separate legislation, however, that would have established a safe drug consumption facility in Burlington as part of a harm-reduction pilot program.

On Wednesday, Scott signed S.114, the psychedelics working group bill. The new law does not itself change the legal status psychedelics. Rather, it creates an eight-person task force to “review the latest research and evidence of the public health benefits and risks of clinical psychedelic assisted treatments” and “examine the laws and programs of other states that have authorized the use of psychedelics by health care providers in a therapeutic setting.”

Both MDMA and psilocybin have been granted breakthrough therapy status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and recent clinical trials have MDMA on pace for possible FDA approval later this year.

A separate bill, H.72, would have legalized and funded a facility in Burlington where people could use drugs in a medically supervised environment and also have substances checked for adulterants. The pilot project would have received $1.1 million in money from the state’s opioid settlement fund and another $300,000 to study the site’s impact.

Scott shot down that proposal on Thursday, however.

“While these sites are well-intentioned, this costly experiment will divert financial resources from proven prevention, treatment and recovery strategies, as well as harm reduction initiatives that facilitate entry into treatment rather than continued use,” the governor wrote in a veto message. “While it may consolidate the widespread drug use in Burlington into a smaller area within the city, it will come at the expense of the treatment and recovery needs of other communities, for whom such a model will not work.”

Scott said the state’s existing overdose prevention strategies—he highlighted “including widespread Narcan distribution, fentanyl testing strips, needle exchanges, enhanced prevention, treatment and recovery through local coalitions”—are already “resulting in some positive trends in relation to overdose deaths.”

“Paired with increased enforcement,” he continued, “and the ability to invest Opioid Settlement funds in additional strategies like drug testing, naloxone vending machines, contingency management and expanded outreach, I’m hopeful we will continue to see fewer and fewer overdose deaths.”

Scott had previously signaled that he intended to reject the bill, explaining that he was “philosophically and pragmatically opposed” to the change despite support from city leaders in Burlington.

“It may save lives, but how much are we going to lose because we didn’t get them into treatment or keep them from using in the first place with prevention?” he said at the time.

He also signaled the move at a press conference earlier this week.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth (D) called Scott’s veto “a loss of nerve with regard to harm reduction, one final obstacle for all of us who are committed to exploring every possible path to accelerate the end of the opioid crisis,” according to Vermont Public.

Whether there’s the required two-thirds majority in the legislature to overcome Scott’s veto of the bill isn’t immediately clear. But House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D), who represents Burlington, signaled the House may try vote to override it.

“We understand this is a new strategy to prevent overdose deaths and get people into treatment in Vermont, which is why it is a pilot project with one center,” she told the site VTDigger. “The governor’s veto of this bill is a drastic response to a thoughtful and measured approach to saving lives.”

Sponsored by Rep. Taylor Small (P/D) and 28 House colleagues, the bill was another attempt by lawmakers to allow overdose prevention centers following Scott’s veto of a 2022 measure that would have established a task force to create a plan to open the sites.

In addition to endorsements from the current and former mayors of Burlington itself, this year’s proposal has support from advocacy groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, National Harm Reduction Coalition, the American Diabetes Association, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Johnson Health Center, Broken No More, Recovery Vermont and the Vermont Association for Mental Health Addiction and Recovery.

Though Rhode Island and Minnesota have state laws on the books allowing safe drug consumption sites, New York City became the first U.S. jurisdiction to open locally sanctioned harm reduction centers in November 2021, and officials have reported positive results saving lives.

An early study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) found that the facilities had decreased the risk of overdose, steered people away from using drugs in public and provided other ancillary health services to people who use illicit substances. And separate research published by AMA late last year found that the centers have not led to increased crime despite a significant decrease in arrests.

The psychedelic working group bill, meanwhile, initially began as a measure to legalize the use and possession of psilocybin. Lawmakers on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, however, deleted that section to focus instead on the therapeutic working group.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 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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Lawmakers in a growing number of states have considered psychedelics legislation this session, with many focusing on psilocybin reform and increased research.

For example, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed legislation this month to create a psychedelics task force responsible for studying possible regulatory frameworks for therapeutic access to substances such as psilocybin, mescaline and DMT. It would be charged specifically with ensuring “broad, equitable and affordable access to psychedelic substances” in the state.

This month in Alaska lawmakers sent the governor a bill to create a state task force to study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy in the event of federal approval of substances such as MDMA and psilocybin.

Indiana’s governor recently signed a bill that includes provisions to fund clinical research trials into psilocybin.

Utah’s governor, meanwhile, allowed a bill to authorize a pilot program for hospitals to administer psilocybin and MDMA as an alternative treatment option to become law without his signature.

Maine lawmakers sent the governor legislation to establish a commission tasked with studying and making recommendations on regulating access to psychedelic services.

An Arizona House panel also approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize psilocybin service centers where people could receive the psychedelic in a medically supervised setting.

A Connecticut joint legislative panel approved a bill to decriminalize possession of psilocybin.

A bipartisan bill to legalize psychedelic service centers in California has cleared two Senate committees.

The governor of New Mexico has endorsed a newly enacted resolution requesting that state officials research the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and explore the creation of a regulatory framework to provide access to the psychedelic.

An Illinois committee also recently held a hearing to discuss a bill to legalize psilocybin and allow regulated access at service centers in the state where adults could use the psychedelic in a supervised setting—with plans to expand the program to include mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

Lawmakers in Hawaii also considered a bill that would provide some legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval.

New York lawmakers said that a bill to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in that state has a “real chance” of passing this year.

A Nevada joint legislative committee held a hearing with expert and public testimony on the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin in January. Law enforcement representatives also shared their concerns around legalization—but there was notable acknowledgement that some reforms should be enacted, including possible rescheduling.

The governor of Massachusetts also recently promoted the testimony of activists who spoke in favor of her veterans-focused bill that would, in part, create a psychedelics work group to study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin. Separately, an initiative that would legalize psychedelics may appear on the November ballot if lawmakers decline to independently enact it first.

Currently, there are no psychedelic drugs that are federally approved to prescribe as medicine. But that could soon change, as FDA recently agreed to review a new drug application for MDMA-assisted therapy on an expedited basis.

At the start of this year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) separately issued a request for applications to conduct in-depth research on the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD and depression.

In October, the agency also launched a new podcast about the future of veteran health care, and the first episode of the series focuses on the healing potential of psychedelics.

FDA also recently joined scientists at a public meeting on next steps for conducting research to develop psychedelic medicines. That came months after the agency issued historic draft guidance on psychedelics studies, providing scientists with a framework to carry out research that could lead to the development of novel medicines.

Meanwhile in Congress this month, a House panel approved GOP-led bill that would instruct VA to notify Congress if any psychedelics are added to its formulary of covered prescription drugs.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Headed To Conference Committee After House Rejects Senate Amendments

Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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