Maryland Advances Bill to Fund Psychedelics Access for Veterans

    Maryland lawmakers sent a bill to the governor on April 8 that would create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.

    The bill from Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D) unanimously passed the Senate (46-0) in March and then also cleared the House of Delegates unanimously (135-0) on April 8, shortly following committee consideration and a second reading in the chamber.

    The final vote came on the same day that Gov. Larry Hogan (D) allowed a separate piece of marijuana legislation become law without his signature, creating initial rules for an adult-use legalization program if voters approve the reform at the ballot, which they will have the chance to do this November under a different measure that was enacted by the legislature.

    The psychedelics bill, meanwhile, would establish what’s being called the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury Alternative Therapies Fund. It stipulates that money from that fund must be used to study “the use of alternative therapies for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.”

    In March, the House Appropriations Committee also considered nearly identical companion legislation sponsored by Del. Seth Howard (R). Members at the time adopted several amendments to more closely align the legislation in both chambers. It also passed in the House on second reading in early April, but it is not the vehicle for the reform because it didn’t advance through its chamber of origin ahead of the crossover deadline.

    The Senate bill that’s been sent to the governor seeks to provide “cost-free access” to psychedelics for eligible veterans.

    The state Department of Health would be required to “periodically” consult with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Sheppard Pratt hospital, Brain Futures and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

    The purpose of the partnerships would be to determine the “effectiveness of and a method for improving access to alternative therapies for treating” PTSD and traumatic brain injury in veterans. They would also consult on “appropriate uses of the fund that further the fund’s purpose.”

    The department would need to first submit a report to the governor and legislation with “initial findings and recommendations” by December 1, 2022. Two years later, there would be another deadline for findings and recommendations that are based on studies that were specifically funded through the PTSD fund.

    The recommendations would focus on “budgetary, legislative, or regulatory changes to expand access to alternative therapies for veterans with post–traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries,” the bill text states.

    For fiscal year 2024, the bill calls for the governor to include $1 million in an annual budget bill for the fund.

    Maryland is one of numerous states where psychedelics reform is being taken up this session.

    For example, a Colorado House committee approved a bill in early April aligning state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use. However, the House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee also rejected separate legislation to create a psychedelics review panel to study substances like psilocybin and DMT and issue recommendations on possible policy changes.

    Also in April, Georgia lawmakers advanced a bipartisan resolution that calls for the formation of a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and make recommendations for reforms.

    The governor of Utah in March signed a bill to create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.

    A Missouri House committee also held a hearing in March on a GOP-led bill to legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.

    A Connecticut legislative committee approved a bill in March that would set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment with substances like MDMA and psilocybin. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed a separate bill in 2021 that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms. A workgroup has since been meeting to investigate the issue.

    The Washington State legislature recently sent a budget bill to the governor’s desk that includes a proposal to direct $200,000 in funding to support a new workgroup to study the possibility of legalizing psilocybin services in the state, including the idea of using current marijuana regulatory systems to track psychedelic mushrooms.

    In March, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a “long-term” plan to ensure that the psychedelic is accessible for medical use for adults 21 and older.

    Also in March, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin and promote research into the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.

    Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills that month—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.

    An Oregon Senate committee also recently advanced a bill to ensure that equity is built into the state’s historic therapeutic psilocybin program that’s actively being implemented following voter approval in 2020.

    A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel in January, only to be pushed off until 2023. A separate Senate proposal to decriminalize psilocybin alone was later defeated in a key committee.

    California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.

    New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

    Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation in January that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.

    Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania bill meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms for certain mental health conditions may be in jeopardy, with the sponsor saying that the chair of a key House committee is expressing reservations even after the legislation was amended in an effort to build support.

    New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

    Legislation was also enacted by the Texas legislature last year requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.

    At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in January, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.



    Photograph courtesy of TherapeuticShroom via Pixabay

    This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

    • Kyle is Marijuana Moment‘s Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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