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States Slowly Embracing Psychedelic Drugs

October 19, 2023 (4 min read)

After years of debate, medical marijuana is now fully legal in 37 states. The new frontier is psychedelics.

Some researchers believe that psychedelic drugs like MDMA and psilocybin (the hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms) may be used to treat a litany of mental health illnesses, including depression, anxiety and PTSD, as well as give comfort to patients suffering from serious forms of cancer.

Already the legislatures in Oregon and Colorado have decriminalized psychedelics. And lawmakers in several other states are examining the issue, although they aren’t moving nearly as quickly.

Most Psychedelic-Related Legislation Aimed at Creating Study Groups

Fifty bills including the word “psychedelic” have been introduced in 20 states since the beginning of the year, according to the LexisNexis® State Net® legislative tracking system.

Not all of these bills focus solely on psychedelic drugs—also included are health appropriations and bills related to marijuana—but the data is another sign of the growing legislative interest in psychedelics, which was explored earlier this year in JAMA Psychiatry, the American Medical Association's psychiatric journal, and is being tracked by the online newsletter Psychedelic Alpha.

As a headline in the psychedelic-focused magazine DoubleBlind read in mid-January, “2023 Might Be the Biggest Year for Psychedelics Yet: Lawmakers in nearly one dozen states are pushing for some kind of psychedelic policy reform.”

But while legislators are definitely looking more closely at psychedelics, there hasn’t been a tidal wave of approved legislation. At least, not yet.

According to the State Net tracking service, only six substantive bills related to psychedelics have been passed in 2023 and four of them simply set up committees to study the drugs further: 

  • Arizona’s SB 1726, by Sen. John Kavanagh (R), which among other things establishes a psilocybin research advisory council. 
  • Minnesota’s SB 2995, by Sen. Melissa Halvorson Wiklund (D), which among other things establishes a Psychedelic Medicine Task Force. 
  • Nevada’s SB 242, by Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D), which establishes the Psychedelic Medicines Working Group. 
  • Washington’s SB 5263, by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D), which establishes the Washington psilocybin advisory board.

A bill was also enacted in Indiana SB 379 that expands the state’s list of controlled substances.

Many States Considering, Few Enacting Bills Dealing with Psychedelics in 2023

Twenty states have introduced 50 measures mentioning the word “psychedelic” this year, according to the State Net legislative tracking system. Five of those measures have been enacted, while a sixth, a psychedelic decriminalization bill in California (SB 58), was vetoed by the governor. 

Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Blocked by Governor in California

Easily the most significant bill passed this year was California’s SB 58, by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), which followed in Oregon's and Colorado’s footsteps and sought to decriminalize psychedelics in the Golden State for people 21 years of age and older.

“Veterans and anyone suffering from PTSD and depression should not face criminal penalties for seeking relief,” Wiener said in a press release when the bill was sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk. “Plant-based psychedelics are non-addictive and show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis. After three years of consultation with law enforcement groups and medical experts, SB 58 takes a moderate approach to allowing suffering people to access plant medicine with appropriate safeguards in place.”

Newsom, however, vetoed the bill on Oct. 7, stating in his veto message that while “peer-reviewed science and powerful personal anecdotes” encouraged him “to support new opportunities to address mental health through psychedelic medicines like those addressed in this bill,” he couldn’t sign the measure because it would decriminalize psychedelics before establishing regulated treatment guidelines for their use first.

He did open the door for action on the issue in 2024, however.

“I urge the legislature to send me legislation next year that includes therapeutic guidelines,” he wrote. “I am, additionally, committed to working with the legislature and sponsors of this bill to craft legislation that would authorize permissible uses and consider a framework for potential broader decriminalization in the future, once the impacts, dosing, best practice, and safety guardrails are thoroughly contemplated and put in place.”

Politics of Psychedelics Remains Murky—for Now

California’s passage of SB 58 is obviously significant, especially given the Golden State’s tendency to pioneer legislation that’s then adopted by other states.

But if the legislative results in other states are any indication, you shouldn’t expect widespread adoption of psychedelic drugs any time soon.

According to State Net data, 20 bills in eight states that include the word “psychedelic” failed outright in 2023 while another 15 in nine states are being carried over into 2024

Writing in JAMA Psychiatry, Dr. Joshua S. Siegel, James E. Daily, Demetrius A. Perry and Dr. Ginger E. Nicol state: “Based on data from cannabis legalization, we project that most states will have passed legislation legalizing psychedelics by 2033–2037,” which would mean we’re a decade or more from widespread acceptance of such drugs.

However, the authors note: “It is possible that psychedelic reform will occur even more rapidly than cannabis reform due to the higher apparent likelihood of FDA approval, the early shift towards bipartisan legislative support, early interest in reform at the federal level, and the fact that marijuana reform has paved the way for increased access to Schedule I drugs.”

Then again, they also add, “the path the [sic] legalization may be slowed if current FDA applications do not result in approval or the public perceives psychedelics to be more dangerous than cannabis.”

In other words, there’s still a lot of politics to be worked out on psychedelics. This is just the beginning.

—By SNCJ Correspondent BRIAN JOSEPH

Please visit our webpage to connect with a State Net representative and learn how the State Net legislative and regulatory tracking solution can help you identify, track, analyze and report on relevant legislative and regulatory developments. 


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