A Hawaii Senate committee approved a House-passed bill on Wednesday that would create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
The psychedelics legislation from Rep. Adrian Tam (D) advanced, with amendments, in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in a 5-0 vote.
Members took testimony from advocates and experts, including a representative of the Department of Health, which voiced support for the proposal. All 20 people and organizations that submitted written testimony ahead of the panel’s hearing were in favor of the reform.
Part of the reason for the department’s support may have to do with the fact that the legislation has been amended from its original form to say that the state “may” create a psychedelics advisory council, instead of original mandatory language saying the panel “shall” be created.
The health department said that the proposal represents a “prudent investment,” and it committed to “help prepare Hawaii for future treatments and technologies with applications for behavioral health and that have received Breakthrough Therapy Designations” from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The measure, which cleared the House earlier this month, has also been revised to change the name of the proposed body from the “Beneficial Treatments Advisory Council” to the “Temporary Breakthrough Therapy Designation Advisory Council.”
At Thursday’s committee stop, the bill was amended further to make it effective upon enactment. It had previously been given a “defective date” of June 30, 3000—a common tactic in the Hawaii legislature to signal that a bill needs more work before it is ready to pass.
The bill says that legislature finds that state officials “should be empowered to review relevant laws, regulations, and studies each time a breakthrough therapy designation is issued to review any new treatment intended for mental health or substance abuse to prepare the State for the treatment’s eventual approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration,” the bill text that the Senate panel took up says.
While the department was originally designated as the body to chair the council, that has now been changed to the governor’s Office of Wellness and Resiliency (OWR).
Here’s what HB 1340 would accomplish as amended:
An advisory council would be created, tasked with exploring state and federal regulations on certain psychedelics, in addition to reviewing scientific literature related to using them for mental health treatment.
The council would need to assess FDA breakthrough therapies within three months of FDA giving the substance that designation.
Members of the council would need to include the OWR director, state attorney general, law enforcement director, legislative leadership and a physician. Others could be appointed by top lawmakers and the OWR director.
The body would need to examine the “requirements, specifications, and guidelines for a health care professional to prescribe and provide various treatments for patients who may benefit.”
No later than one year after convening, the council would need to submit a report, including any proposed legislation, to lawmakers with its findings.
A Senate companion version from Sen. Chris Lee (D) passed the chamber in earlier this month and has been referred to a House committee.
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Meanwhile, a Hawaii Senate-passed bill to legalize marijuana has stalled out in the House for the year—but advocates are shifting focus to 2024, hoping to enact the reform in the second half of the two-year legislative session.
The legislation from Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D) cleared the Senate earlier this month, and hopes were high that it’d make it through the House as well. But a hearing wasn’t scheduled before a deadline for bills that have been referred to three or more committees, meaning it will need to wait until next year to potentially advance further.
Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions, but while the reform was approved in the Senate in 2021, it stalled after failing to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Advocates struggled under former Democratic governor, Dave Ige, who has resisted legalization, in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
But now that Gov. Josh Green (D) has been sworn in, activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be utilized.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.