Washington Considering Legalizing Psilocybin

Washington Considering Legalizing Psilocybin

Washington State Democratic Senators Liz Lovelett and Jesse Salomon have introduced a bill to legalize “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older. The Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunity Act – SB 5660 – allows individuals to consume psilocin and psilocybin, the two main active ingredients in psychedelic mushrooms, under the support and guidance of a trained and state-licensed psilocybin service administrator. The new bill would establish a legal, regulated psilocybin industry available to all adults of legal age.

National and international research by recognized medical institutions has shown that psilocybin has effectively treated various behavioral health conditions such as addiction, anxiety disorders, depression, and end-of-life psychological distress. The lockdowns, quarantines, and restrictions during the ongoing COVID pandemic have exacerbated mental health issues for many, and Sen. Salomon is encouraged by research demonstrating the efficacy of guided and certified psilocybin services. 

“This is a practice as old as humanity itself, and it is time to incorporate this opportunity to heal into our toolbox here in Washington state,” said Salomon. “We should not deny ourselves the benefits of these services when there is so much suffering in our communities.”

In 2020, voters in neighboring Oregon passed an initiative legalizing psilocybin treatment for mental health. Currently, license applications are expected to be accepted next January in a two-year development phase. According to a media representative for Sen. Salomon, SB 5660 is similar to Oregon’s initiative but includes “modifications to address problems Oregon encountered with implementation.”

The statewide bill calls for trained and licensed professionals to administer psilocybin under supportive conditions at licensed service centers. Psilocybin services would be available to adults 21 and older for nearly any purpose. The proposal is clear that clients do not require a medical condition to participate. Psilocybin services would not constitute medical diagnoses or treatment. The bill would bar employers from discriminating against people receiving legal psilocybin services unless they showed visible impairment at work. Employers could not test workers unless they exhibit “clear, observable symptoms of impairment.”

Under SB 5660, the state Department of Health would issue licenses and regulate the new industry. The act would establish the Washington Psilocybin Advisory Board within the department to advise on best practices for supported use, available scientific and social research, and criteria for the bill’s social opportunity program. The legislation also provides home services and an option for would-be facilitators to complete much of the training from home. Mason Marks, who helped author the bill, is an attorney and project lead and senior fellow on the Project at Psychedelics Law and Regulation at Harvard Law School. 

Because the bill focuses on opportunity, access, and equity, Marks believes the bill’s social opportunity program provides “reduced licensing fees, training, and other benefits to licensees from lower-income parts of the state.”

The bill recognizes that those with disabilities, mobility issues, or medical diagnoses may experience difficulty leaving home to access treatment. The legislation permits trained facilitators to administer psilocybin in the home. Other provisions allow participants to meet with facilitators remotely, prepare the participants for a psilocybin experience, and assist in experience integration from home.

SB 5660 will allow clients to receive safe psilocybin products from licensed professionals and create economic opportunities for people statewide.

The bill would create a licensing system through Washington’s Department of Health for production facilities, testing labs, service centers, and facilitators. The Washington Psilocybin Advisory Board would advise the Department Of Health on system implementations.

Following the bill’s passage, Washington’s Health Department would need to adopt “comprehensive regulatory framework” rules during an 18-month development period. Then beginning January 2, 2024, the department must allow applications for manufacturing psilocybin products, operating a service center, facilitating psilocybin services, or testing products.

Incorporated cities or towns would be required to allow psilocybin services explicitly. Services could not be located in areas zoned exclusively for residential use. Service providers would also be required to be more than 1,000 feet away from elementary or secondary schools. Until 2026, licensees would be required to be residents of Washington or entities with majority ownership and control by Washington residents.

For some, the new proposal doesn’t go far enough. Dr. Sunil Aggarwal is the co-director for the Advanced Integrated Medical Science Institute. He believes the bill has room to be more permissive and respectful of freedom. He is also in favor of clear decriminalization of psilocybin and respect for the traditional use of psilocybin. 

“I would like to see some kind of fast track pathway created for those who may have shortened life expectancies and will not be able to wait the 18 months that are proposed here for rulemaking and implementation,” said Dr. Aggarwal.

In Washington’s attorney general’s office, officials joined a lawsuit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for access to psilocybin and psilocin under state and federal right-to-try laws. If successful, patients with terminal conditions would be allowed to try investigational medications not approved for general use.

In 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, several jurisdictions across the country are removing or reducing penalties around possession and consumption of psychedelics. 

Faced with a burgeoning opioid crisis, Seattle’s City Council members sought ways to reduce opioid-related deaths and asked a local task force to examine “public policy governing psychedelic medicines.” Three months later, the task force recommended decriminalizing psychedelics and removing criminal penalties around all drugs. With a unanimous vote in the City Council, Seattle became the largest U.S. city to decriminalize noncommercial activity around psychedelic substances.

The measure extended existing city policy against arresting or prosecuting people for personal drug possession and to further protect the cultivation and sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi for “religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices.”

In 2020, Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. That same year Washington, D.C. voters approved a ballot measure to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.

Last year, Connecticut and Texas passed laws requiring a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and a study on the benefits of psychedelics for military veterans, respectively.

While legislators paused efforts to legalize psychedelics possession in California last year, lawmakers in New York and Florida have recently filed psychedelics reform bills.

Federal prosecutors’ response to legal psilocybin in Washington is an unanswered question. But Washington officials plan to meet with federal prosecutors in the state to discuss “potential federal enforcement policies regarding psilocybin in Washington after the expiration of the 18-month program development period.”

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