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Vermont Senate Panel Scales Back Psilocybin Legalization Bill, Pivoting Focus To Working Group On Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

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A panel of Vermont lawmakers moved forward with planned amendments to a psychedelics bill on Friday, scaling back a proposal that originally would have legalized possession and use of psilocybin in the state to instead merely establish a working group that would study whether and how to allow therapeutic access to psychedelics.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved the modifications, which members first floated earlier this month, and voted 3–2 to advance the amended measure, S. 114.

Members spent no time Friday discussing the pivot away from decriminalization, instead going over changes to the makeup of the would-be working group.

Under the amendment approved by the panel, the state would establish an eight-member Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group that would “examine the use of psychedelics to improve physical and mental health and to make findings and recommendations regarding the advisability of the establishment of a State program similar to other jurisdictions to permit health care providers to administer psychedelics in a therapeutic setting and the impact on public health of allowing individuals to legally access psychedelics under state law.”

The amended bill says the group would hold its first meeting before July 15 and would need to submit a written report to various House and Senate committees by November 15 “with its findings and any recommendations for legislative action.”

At a meeting earlier this month, the committee indicated a desire to move away from limited noncommercial legalization under the rationale that the bill’s focus should be about the possible medical benefits of psychedelics rather than limiting harm caused by prohibition.

“It could be that decriminalization is going to get in the way of therapeutic use,” suggested Sen. Ginny Lyons (D), the committee chair. “What we’re looking for is the value of therapeutic use.”

At a meeting earlier this week, on Tuesday, committee staff previewed an amended bill that removed the psilocybin provision completely, and members turned their attention to the makeup of the working group, which would study the possible regulation of psychedelic therapy involving substances beyond just psilocybin.

Under language now approved by the committee, membership would consist of:

  • A representative of the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, who would be appointed by the school’s dean
  • A representative of the Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric and addiction hospital, who would be appointed by the president and CEO
  • A member of the Vermont Psychological Association, appointed by the president
  • A member of the Vermont Psychiatric Association, appointed by the president
  • The executive director of the Vermont Board of Medical Practice or a designee
  • The director of the Vermont Office of Professional Regulation or a designee
  • The Vermont Commissioner of Health or a designee
  • A co-founder of the Psychedelic Society of Vermont

The group would review research and scientific literature as well as laws and programs in other jurisdictions. They would also be directed to provide an opportunity “for individuals with lived experience to provide testimony” as well as provide “potential timelines for universal and equitable access to psychedelic assisted treatments.

In other drug-related actions this session, Vermont’s House also recently passed a bill to legalize and fund safe consumption sites, part of a pilot program aimed at quelling the ongoing epidemic of drug-related deaths. It’s another attempt by lawmakers to allow the facilities following Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) veto of a 2022 measure that would have established a task force to create a plan to open the sites.

Meanwhile a growing number of states are pursuing psychedelics reform legislation this legislative session, with a focus on research and therapeutic access.

For example, the Indiana legislature recently sent a bill to the governor’s desk that includes provisions to fund clinical research trials into psilocybin.

Meanwhile, the Maryland House of Delegates this week passed a bill 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. A companion measure is also advancing in the Senate.

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.

Utah lawmakers last week unanimously approved a Republican-led bill to authorize a pilot program for hospitals to administer psilocybin and MDMA as an alternative treatment option, sending it to the governor.

Also last week, a Missouri House committee unanimously approved a bill to legalize the medical use of psilocybin by military veterans and fund studies exploring the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.

Connecticut lawmakers held a hearing on a bill to decriminalize possession of psilocybin last week.

A Vermont legislative panel continued its consideration this month of a bill that would legalize psilocybin in the state and establish a work group on how to further regulate psychedelics for therapeutic use.

The governor of New Mexico recently 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 senator recently introduced 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 are also continuing to advance a bill that would provide some legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval.

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

Bipartisan California lawmakers also recently introduced a bill to legalize psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could access psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

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 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.

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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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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