Vermont lawmakers held a committee hearing on Thursday where members discussed legislation to legalize psilocybin and take first steps toward providing regulated access to the psychedelic.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee took up H. 371 from Reps. Chip Troiano (D) and Brian Cina (D), who said he’s personally benefitted from using psychedelics.
There seemed to be agreement among members about the overall merits of the proposal, but the panel’s chairman said that “we’re not going pass this out this session” because there’s not enough floor time left before lawmakers adjourn in the coming days.
However, the plan is to promptly take it back up and advance the reform at the beginning of next year.
“For years, I’ve been advocating for us to decriminalize nature—for the government to get out of the way of people and their birthright to plant and fungal medicines that are commonly used for medicinal spiritual, religious or entheogenic purposes,” Cina said. “So this, for me, is an extension of that work.”
“Many cultures around the world have use of psilocybin mushrooms in a religious ceremonies, and I will say that, in my own personal experience, I have been able to benefit from healing from using plant and fungal medicines in various ceremonies in my life,” the lawmaker said.
As introduced, the legislation would remove psilocybin from the state’s list of prohibited drugs, effectively legalizing the fungi.
It also calls for the establishment of a Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group that would be required to “examine the use of psychedelics to improve physical and mental health and to make recommendations regarding the establishment of a State program” like those that are being implemented in Oregon and Colorado.
The eight-member working group would be comprised of lawmakers, researchers, advocates and state officials.
Members would need to “review the latest research and evidence of the benefits and risks of clinical psychedelic assisted treatment” and look into the “laws and programs of other states that have authorized the use of psychedelics.”
The bill currently says that the group would need to submit a report with “its findings and any recommendations for legislative action” by November 15, 2024. But legislators recognized on Thursday that that’s one provision that’d need to be pushed back if it’s not enacted this session.
“We know that psilocybin has no addictive qualities. It’s not a daily use drug,” Troiano said at Thursday’s hearing. “It’s sometimes a single use in therapy, sometimes it’s two or three times a month.”
The chairman said that he expects the legislation will “travel around the House” in various committees, and “hopefully we’ll get to the Senate.”
“The Senate has the identical bill,” he said, referring to companion legislation from Sen. Martine Gulick (D). “Certainly, between the two houses, I think maybe we could come to some good conclusions.”
Vermont lawmakers have put forward a number of drug policy reform proposals this session, including measures to promote harm reduction services, broadly decriminalize drugs and investigate psychedelics.
Legislators also discussed the psychedelics legislation at a press conference at the State House on Thursday, with Troiano saying he was motivated to pursue the reform after learning about clinical trials involving psilocybin at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“When I saw that the VA was willing to look into this as a therapeutic mode, I thought this is just another tool in the toolbox that we can use to provide assistance from veterans who come back from war and suffer from post-traumatic stress,” he said.
It’s unclear how Gov. Phil Scott (R) might approach the issue if lawmakers successfully pass the psilocybin legislation next year. He reluctantly signed legislation legalizing marijuana in 2018, but he vetoed a measure last year that would have created a task force to look into establishing safe drug consumption sites.
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Vermont is one of a growing number of states where lawmakers have show interest in advancing psychedelics reform.
A California bill to legalize the possession of certain psychedelics and facilitated use of the substances is heading to the Senate floor under an accelerated process that is allowing it to skip further committee consideration.
The Minnesota House recently passed an omnibus health bill that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
Last month, a Republican North Carolina lawmaker and a bipartisan group of cosponsors filed a bill to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.
A Washington State bill to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment is heading to the governor’s desk following final approval in the Senate.
A Nevada Senate committee approved a revised bill last month that would create a new working group to study psychedelics and develop a plan to allow regulated access for therapeutic purposes.
The Hawaii Senate approved a bill last month to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
On Friday, Oregon regulators approved the nation’s first license for a psilocybin service center where people will be able to use the psychedelic in a supervised and facilitated environment.
Meanwhile, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told senators on Thursday that there is emerging evidence that psychedelics carry “significant potential” as therapeutic treatments for certain mental health conditions, and it’s a topic of “great interest” for researchers.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
A national poll published in March found that a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.