A former Republican congresswoman is touting the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, sharing the story of how a close family friend was able to recover from alcohol use disorder with the help of psilocybin.
Former Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) gave the personal anecdote during a recent interview with Spectrum News. She was discussing a bill that’s temporarily stalled in the state legislature to legalize the possession of a wide range of psychedelics.
“Somebody who’s very close to our family was an alcoholic at the age of 15 years old, and he tried everything he could in order to overcome this disease and he wasn’t successful,” Walters, who also previously served as a California state senator and assemblymember, said. But then the person was invited to participate in a study at New York University “to help him kick his addiction of alcoholism.”
“He went through as one of the participants, actually got the psilocybin treatment and, after the first time he got the treatment, he lost all cravings for drinking,” she said. “This happened about six years ago, and he has not had a craving since.”
Walters left Congress in 2019, just a few months prior to a vote on an amendment meant to promote psychedelics research. That measure has failed both times it’s been introduced, though it garnered more support the last time it was on the floor this July.
A growing body of research has demonstrated that certain psychedelics may be effective in the treatment of conditions such as addiction, severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Media attention to these studies is one of the reasons that National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow believes the United States is seeing an increase in psychedelic use among young adults, she told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview.
Oregon voters approved a historic initiative last year to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. A state panel charged with advising on the implementation of a legal psilocybin therapy program has cleared a team of researchers to produce a comprehensive report on the science, history and culture of the psychedelic as regulators prepare to license facilities to administer it.
In California, Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D) legislation isn’t singularly about the therapeutic use of psychedelics. Rather, it would broadly remove criminal penalties for possessing numerous psychedelics—including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine, LSD and MDMA—for adults 21 and older.
The bill cleared the Senate and two Assembly committees before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s legislative session.
Wiener said during a psychedelics policy forum this month that it took significant compromise both internally and externally to advance the measure as far as it went, and he also noted that legalizing psychedelics possession is simply a first step toward comprehensively ending the drug war and decriminalizing all currently illicit substances.
The senator has spent significant energy building support for the reform proposal as it has moved through the legislature, including by holding a recent rally with military veterans, law enforcement and health officials.
Meanwhile, California psychedelics activists recently filed a petition for the 2022 ballot to make the state the first in the nation to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for any use. And a fiscal analysis of the proposal found that it would save the state millions in enforcement costs and also generate state and local tax revenue. The state attorney general issued a ballot title and summary for the measure last week, clearing advocates to begin collecting signatures.
The psychedelics effort in the California legislature, which Wiener first previewed back in November, comes as activists are stepping up the push to enact psychedelics reform locally in cities and states across the country.
In California, Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization. In Oakland, the first municipality in the US where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
Michigan senators introduced a bill this month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
Voters in Detroit will decide on a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelics in November.
The Ann Arbor City Council approved entheogenic decriminalization last year—and in July, local lawmakers passed a resolution to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. After the local decriminalization resolution passed, a county prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”
Efforts are also underway in Grand Rapids to enact a policy change for the psychedelic substances.
Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led a 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the US to decriminalize psilocybin possession have their eyes set on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.
Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change are: Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge. In July, state lawmakers heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
The governor of Connecticut recently signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid-involved overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing overdose. In response, the task force issued a recommendation for the widespread decriminalization of all drugs. The group said psychedelics in particular could represent a promising treatment to address substance use disorders and mental health issues.
Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon activists are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
In a setback for advocates, the US House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans living with a host of mental health conditions.
When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Photograph via Drug Enforcement Administration