Washington State lawmakers have approved a bill to legalize psilocybin therapy. It would be limited to a pilot program for military veterans and first responders, however. It now heads to Governor Jay Inslee (D), who previously said he would “consider” legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic use. If he signs the bill, Washington will become the third state to allow at least some legal psychedelic therapy.
On April 14, the Washington Senate approved SB 5263, after the House approved it earlier that week. But it could have gone further. As Senator Jesse Salomon (D), a sponsor of the bill, explained, an earlier version of the legislation was broader. It would have created a regulated psilocybin therapy program accessible to the general population, similar to those approved by voters in Oregon and Colorado.
This proved a step too far for many lawmakers, however, and negotiations restricted the eventual bill.
“We added a pilot program where people could actually get psilocybin, focused on veterans or first responders with PTSD or substance use disorder.”
“There was an amendment to strip out that entire model and turn it into a study bill, where state agencies would talk about it or figure out how to implement some sort of psilocybin provision,” Sen. Salomon told Filter. He and his allies then countered this: “We added a pilot program where people could actually get psilocybin, but it’s a small pilot focused on veterans or first responders with PTSD or substance use disorder. A majority of the legislature wanted to do this step first.”
The compromise is sure to upset psychedelic advocates who want to see far more ambitious reforms in Washington. Now, any kind of further regulated access will have to wait at least two more years before lawmakers are likely to even consider it again.
Despite the setback, Senator Salomon is encouraged for the future by the overwhelming margins in support of this bill: 87-10 in the House and 40-4 in the Senate, with Republicans in both chambers joining Democrats in support.
“From the perspective of a legislator it was very successful,” he said, “because it was the first time the House ever considered this policy. They voted 87-10, that’s a big deal.”
“The second big deal is that Republicans in both chambers by wide margins voted for it,” he continued. “That should signal cause for hope. It’s not the policy I wanted but the votes were very strong, so I think there is room to continue this work and continue to make my colleagues comfortable with these policies.”
Salomon expects that Gov. Inslee, whose office he worked with on the bill, will now sign it.
If the bill becomes law, the University of Washington will set up a psilocybin therapy pilot program by January 1, 2025. It will have to offer psilocybin therapy that is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adults over 21 who are military veterans or first responders, and experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder or other mental health conditions. The pilot center will employ nurses, doctors, social workers or counselors to provide treatment.
Before a participant receives psilocybin therapy, they will get an initial assessment to discuss their health history and treatment goals. After the psilocybin session, the participant will receive an “integration” session to discuss how the trip went and how they want to go forward. The bill will also protect doctors from any kind of penalties for recommending their patients get psilocybin treatment.
It will additionally set up several study groups, focusing both on psilocybin therapy and how to legalize and regulate the substance in the future. And the bill’s text expresses hope that the state will create “a long term strategic plan for ensuring that psilocybin services become and remain a safe, accessible, and affordable option” for adults.
“It’s not 100 percent clear what model would be recommended at the end of this process, whether its the wellness model, a clinical medical model, it’s yet to be determined,” Salomon said. “I don’t think the legislature has coalesced around one particular result. We’re doing our research, casting a wider net and seeing what data we come up with, how the agencies talk about it, see what they’re most comfortable with.”
The bill’s overwhelming bipartisan support, together with the research and real-world treatment examples it will provide, signal that the door is open for more ambitious reforms.
Another provision is that a “psilocybin advisory board,” run by the state health department, will include members appointed by the governor and state health officers. It may also include experts in fields like harm reduction, substance use disorder or natural medicine.
Separate from this group, an “interagency psilocybin work group” would also be set up within the departments of health, liquor and cannabis, and agriculture. This group would report to the advisory board on how to safely and equitably regulate psilocybin—by reviewing Indigenous practices, clinical studies and any other evidence. It would also recommend how legalization could “remedy the targeted enforcement of drug-related laws on overburdened communities.”
Finally, the health department would create a “psilocybin task force” that reports to the legislature and governor, with task force meetings open to the public.
This plan will be very limited in who it will serve—and with a waiting period of up to two years, it’s sure to strain psychedelic advocates’ patience. But its overwhelming bipartisan support in the state, together with the research and real-world treatment examples it will provide, signal that the door is open for more ambitious reforms down the line.
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