A Virginia Senate committee on Wednesday discussed a bill to decriminalize psilocybin, with members on both sides of the aisle expressing general support for the concept—but a vote was delayed until next week to consider feedback on possible revisions to put a more specific focus on authorizing the substance for therapeutic use.
The Senate Judiciary Committee took up the legislation from Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), hearing testimony from advocates, military veterans and other people who have benefitted from psychedelics therapy. The legislation would make possession of psilocybin and psilocyn by adults 21 and older a civil penalty that carries a $100 fine, instead of a Class 5 felony.
Any dollars collected from psychedelics possession violations would go to the state’s Drug Offender Assessment and Treatment Fund, which supports substance misuse treatment programs and drug courts.
There was some bipartisan support for the proposal, but one Republican member suggested centering the focus on medical use, rather than broadly decriminalize the substances, to make it more passable in the newly GOP-controlled House.
Sen. Mark Peake (R) said that he felt the measure as introduced would stand a solid chance of advancing through the committee and full Senate under Democratic control, but he said, “I bet the House is not ready for that.”
He recommended changing the legislation “to make it where [psilocybin is] medically prescribed,” to follow a similar policy trajectory that the state followed for marijuana.
“The bill the way it is written, where anyone can possess it for any reason, I don’t see how that would get through the House in this session,” the senator said.
Hashmi was amenable to the suggestion and said that “we have an opportunity to continue to work on the bill, put in the safety rails that you are recommending—I think that would be a really good direction.”
In her opening remarks, the senator said that a growing number of studies are “demonstrating that psilocybin has the potential, really, to alleviate a lot of mental health issues, and especially for those folks for whom other medications are simply not working.”
“Preliminary research is showing that it also perhaps helps with substance addiction. We know that substance abuse, substance addiction, is a direct corollary to the rising use of opioid treatment,” she said. “Psilocybin might be an appropriate antidote to providing medical care service for folks with depression and PTSD in ways that are other drugs are not able to do.”
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Notably, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R) also voiced support for the proposal. He said that while in his early career “the mantra was get tough on crime,” public opinion has shifted, as has medical research.
“Sometimes I think we have to rely upon intuition and take a change,” he said. “I listened to the testimonies today—and they’re not testimonies that I’ve heard for the first time. So I’m going to support this because I generally think it’s going to provide some relief and help individuals.”
The committee is expected to vote on an amended version of the bill next Wednesday.
There’s a separate, similar psychedelics reform proposal that’s been filed in the House. It hasn’t gone to committee yet, but it would decriminalize a wider array of substances for adults over 21, including peyote and ibogaine in addition to psilocybin and psilocyn.
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).
If the legislature does approve the legislation, it could face resistance from the state’s incoming 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.
The filing of the psychedelics bills in Virginia is just the latest example of state lawmakers following the tide of local decriminalization efforts that have played out across the country.
For example, a GOP Utah lawmaker introduced a bill on Tuesday 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 last week 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.
Similar legislation was also enacted in the Texas legislature, requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.