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Virginia Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill Defeated In Senate Committee After Top GOP Lawmaker Flips Support



In another setback from Virginia psychedelics activists, a key Senate committee on Monday defeated a bill that would have decriminalized psilocybin and psilocyn in the Commonwealth.

Advocates were hopeful that the measure would pass in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which first held a hearing on the proposal earlier this month where bipartisan lawmakers voiced support and the sponsor agreed to file an amendment that would put a focus on the therapeutic application of the psychedelic.

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), did offer an amendment to her bill saying that psilocybin decriminalization would only apply to people who’ve consulted with a doctor, nurse, counselor or social worker—as opposed to broadly decriminalizing for people 21 and older as originally drafted. But that evidently did not earn enough support, and the members agree to pass it by indefinitely by a 8-6 vote, with one absence.

“Numerous studies have shown that psilocybin is an effective treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and addiction,” Hashmi told Marijuana Moment after the vote. “I am extremely disappointed that we continue to criminalize plant medicine, and I plan to bring this bill back next year so that we can offer an additional source of treatment for suffering Virginians.”

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R) had previously signaled support for the bill, and so activists were somewhat taken aback when he voted against it at Monday’s hearing.

“Decriminalize Nature is disappointed in how this played out,” Mark Miller, co-founder of Decriminalize Nature Virginia and a licensed professional counselor, told Marijuana Moment. “We represent veterans who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and to assist them in healing from the experiences that they had overseas or wherever.”

“We owe it to our veterans and our first responders to support them any way we can, which includes medicines that have been found, beyond a shadow of a doubt, in research to be able to assist,” he said.

Miller said that the organization will continue to work to educate legislators and advance local decriminalization measures across the state in the interim before the legislature acts.

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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There was a similar House bill from Del. Dawn Adams to decriminalize a wider array of psychedelics that was also amended to focus on the medical use of the substances, but members of a subcommittee approved a motion to carry the measure over until 2023 to further tweak it and build support.

Given that the House is newly controlled by Republicans, that measure’s prospects seemed somewhat slimmer than than more dialed-back Senate proposal.

Misinformation seemed to be a theme in both the House and Senate committees. Members raised concerns about whether the proposal would lead to magic mushrooms dispensaries or increased impaired driving, even though the bill would neither facilitate retail sales nor permit unlawful activity like driving under the influence.

Neither bill as drafted or amended would have legalized psychedelics for medical or recreational use; rather it would have made possession of the entheogens punishable by a $100 fine, instead of a Class 5 felony as it’s currently designated.

Any dollars collected from psychedelics possession violations would have gone to the state’s Drug Offender Assessment and Treatment Fund, which supports substance misuse treatment programs and drug courts.

At a recent virtual event organized by the reform group Decriminalize Nature Virginia, the sponsors of both bills participated as hosts, sharing their perspectives about the growing body of research indicating that psychedelics could be powerful tools to combat conditions like treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Even if the legislature had approved either piece of legislation, it would likely have faced resistance from the state’s new Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has expressed concerns about implementing a commercial marijuana market in line with what the Democratic legislature and outgoing governor approved last year.

These psychedelics reform proposals are some of the latest to be introduced in state legislatures this session as the decriminalization movement spreads.

In Oregon, where voters approved a historic 2020 initiative to legalize therapeutic psilocybin program, as well as another to broadly decriminalize currently illicit drugs, lawmakers introduced a bill last week meant to promote equity into the program.

Two Republican Oklahoma lawmakers recently filed bills meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, and one of the measures would further decriminalize low-level possession of the psychedelic.

A GOP Utah lawmaker also introduced a bill this month that would set up a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.

In Kansas, A lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the low-level possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.

A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill this month to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD  through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.

California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.

In Michigan, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.

Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation this month that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.

In Vermont, a broad coalition of lawmakers representing nearly a third of the House introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession.

New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.

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