CA Pushes for Psilocybin Centers—Again—for Veterans, First Responders

June 17, 2024

After years of unsuccessful efforts to authorize psychedelic treatment programs in California, a current proposal focuses on veterans and first responders in just three counties. While its scope is much more limited than previous efforts vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom (D), the same is true of its funding prospects. As of June 10, Senate Bill 803 was making its way through the Assembly.

SB 803, the “Heal our Heroes Act,” would authorize the counties of San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Cruz to operate up to five clinics each where psilocybin and psilocyn could be administered under medical supervision. The counties would also issue up to three psilocybin cultivation permits. Local health departments would hold public hearings to discuss any plans in development.

“To be clear, I’m not calling for the widespread legalization of psychedelic drugs,” Senate Minority Leader Brian W. Jones (R), one of the bill’s coauthors, stated June 6. “Rather, I’m championing a targeted medical treatment aimed specifically at aiding veterans and first responders in their recovery.” The bill is also sponsored by the Heroic Hearts Project and Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions (VETS).

The focus is on post-traumatic stress disorder, with a particular emphasis on lowering suicide risk among veterans. Psilocybin has also shown promise in other areas of particular relevance to veterans, such as smoking cessation. But the legislation, which describes itself as “narrowly tailored,” doesn’t provide for much beyond giving three counties the option of pursuing psilocybin clinics, which doesn’t necessarily mean they will. Any resulting pilots would be authorized for three years.

“Given that these programs are meant to be trials, there is a sunset provision [to] reduce any hesitation that might otherwise exist if these authorizations were deemed permanent at the outset,” VETS Director of Public Policy Khurshid Khoja told Filter.

“VETS would certainly work to have the legislature reauthorize these programs if, as we expect, the pilots are successful in providing access to safe and effective new treatments.”

“I don’t suspect this bill would necessarily increase access any more than a clinical trial.”

“Really this sounds like clinical research,” Mason Marks, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and author of the Psychedelic Week newsletter, told Filter. “I don’t suspect this bill would necessarily increase access any more than a clinical trial.”

Similar programs authorized elsewhere, like Washington State, have been met with similar concerns about limited impact. But SB 803 may represent stronger privacy protections than pilots in, for example, Oregon, where psilocybin treatment is not considered medical. This means patients’ personal information does not receive the same HIPAA protections it would otherwise, and is more vulnerable to data breaches.

SB 803 would be protected by HIPAA as well as by California state privacy law, which is even stronger than the federal version. Khoja said that all personal data collected would be “de-identified or anonymized.”

Another concern is that bill doesn’t require that any funding be appropriated for the proposed centers. Khoja said that counties might be able to use some “discretionary” rainy-day funds, or potentially partner with universities that have their own sources to draw on. Marks worries that the bill may end up relying on private funding.

After a California bill to regulate psychedelics failed in May, Senator Scott Weiner (D) pointed to funding as essentially the main barrier.

“We’re in a terrible budget year, where all bills with significant costs are at risk,” Weiner stated. “Psychedelics have massive promise in helping people heal and get their lives back on track. It makes enormous sense for California to lead in creating regulated access under the supervision of a licensed professional.”



Image via Washington State Senator Jesse Salomon

Alexander Lekhtman

Alexander is Filter's staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it's actually alright. He's also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter's editorial fellow.

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