The year 2022 saw cannabis and psychedelics legislation advance in multiple states. Maryland, Missouri and Rhode Island legalized cannabis, New Jersey and New Mexico opened their first dispensaries and San Francisco decriminalized naturally occurring psychedelics. Colorado and Oregon took steps to open the nation’s first psilocybin healing centers.
As President Biden enters his third year in office, a long-awaited bill to federally legalize cannabis seems unlikely, and expansions to psychedelics research feel incremental. The most meaningful reforms will continue to play out at the city and state levels. Here’s what to watch for in 2023.
On March 7, Oklahoma is holding a special election on adult-use cannabis legalization. The state should have held this vote in the November 2022 midterms—but administrative neglect led to the ballot’s confirmation being delayed, before a court decided that that it shouldn’t be put to voters after all. The new date isn’t one voters associate with an election, which could affect turnout and put the campaign at a disadvantage.
“I absolutely think that it being decided in a special election does decrease the likelihood of passage,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Filter. “However, Oklahoma is a fairly unique situation.”
Despite its heavy Republican tilt, Oklahoma has strong support for legalization. Its medical marijuana program is among the nation’s most comprehensive, with the most dispensaries per capita of any state—something approved by voters in a special election.
“I think voters in Oklahoma are primed to approve this initiative in 2023, despite the setbacks,” Armentano said.
The midterms left Democrats in control of the Minnesota state government, as the party took both houses of the legislature and Governor Tim Walz (D) won a second term. The state’s leading Democrats support cannabis legalization, which Walz has ventured might be achievable by May.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in marijuana policy … almost exclusively [at] the state and local level.”
Pennsylvania may consider legalization, with Josh Shapiro (D) becoming governor and narrow Democratic control of the House even as Republicans retained the state Senate. Hawaii’s new governor, Josh Green (D), is also supportive of cannabis legalization—certainly compared to his predecessor David Ige (D).
Washington, DC, lawmakers just unanimously approved a bill to automatically expunge former convictions and citations for marijuana charges. If Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signs it, some residents may find long-overdue justice in a city that once saw an average of one marijuana arrest every two hours.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in marijuana policy, and those policies have almost exclusively all taken place on the state and local level,” Armentano said. “None of these state lawmakers are enacting policies to roll back or further restrict [cannabis]. They are moving in the direction to further expand access, use and freedoms.”
Many states besides Colorado will be watching as Oregon finally opens the first psilocybin therapy centers in the US. Voters approved Measure 109 back in 2020. In May 2022, Oregon health officials adopted the first set of rules related to legal psilocybin therapy, focused on products, testing and training programs. The state health authority must approve the final set of rules on psilocybin production and therapy services by December 30, 2022.
Throughout 2022, long-simmering conflicts about businesses influencing the rule-making emerged. The state’s psilocybin advisory board chair, Tom Eckert, resigned over concerns he might profit off the influence of his position. The same board narrowly voted down a proposal—backed by many local activists—that would have expanded psilocybin services to lower-barrier spiritual or religious settings. Advocates and even state officials acknowledge that the therapy services, while theoretically open to all, will be prohibitively expensive for many residents who could benefit.
In the midterm elections, numerous cities and counties in Oregon also voted to opt out of allowing legal psilocybin therapy within their jurisdictions.
Despite these setbacks, the state is expected to open its first healing centers by summer or fall. How these centers fare could have knock-on effects on whether, or how, other states adopt similar policies.
In November, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to decriminalize low-level possession of several psychedelics and legalize psilocybin therapy, though we won’t see them open in 2023. The Natural Medicine Healing Act is similar to Oregon’s Measure 109 in that regard, but took the unprecedented step of allowing room for DMT, ibogaine and mescaline to potentially be added to the framework down the road.
Natural Medicine Advisory Board will spend 2023 discussing the rules it wants to recommend to state health officials. By January 31, the 15 Board members must be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Board must then issue its recommendations to the state by September 30. And state officials will formally announce the first set of rules on psilocybin therapy by January 1, 2024.
California state Senator Scott Wiener (D) has just reintroduced his bill to decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelics. An earlier version of the bill was gutted in committee and subsequently pulled.
If passed, the new version would remove criminal penalties for low-level possession of DMT, ibogaine, psilocybin and psilocyn. Previously, the bill also included synthetic psychedelics like ketamine, LSD and MDMA.
The change reflects what are often friendlier attitudes, politically and socially, to “natural” drugs, a distinction to which many advocates object. It will be telling if such a compromise spares the new bill the fate of the old one.
On the psychedelics research front, 2023 will bring at least one major milestone. Clinical trials of MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder will formally enter the final review stage. After that, MDMA will be either approved or rejected as a legal prescription medicine.
In an email shared with Filter, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is running the final Phase 3 trials, said the results will be published in the first quarter of 2023. MAPS will then submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration in the third quarter. The FDA would then make a decision in 2024.
In anticipation of MDMA becoming a legal medicine, a number of states have pursued or enacted laws to allow for its provision.
Photograph via Vermont Legislature