Hawaii senators on Wednesday approved two identical resolutions to request the formation of a psilocybin working group that would explore the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic, though the measures were amended to make provisions on developing a plan for patient access contingent on federal approval of the substance.

The Senate Health Committee took up the non-binding Senate resolution and Senate concurrent resolution, both sponsored by Sen. Chris Lee (D), who serves as chair of the Judiciary Committee. The identical proposals advanced unanimously, but with two senators expressing reservations.

Meanwhile, the full Hawaii Senate approved a similar proposal earlier this month in the form of an actual binding bill that directs, rather than merely requests, that the state Department of Health form the psilocybin working group. It has since been referred to several House committees but has not yet been scheduled for any hearings or votes in that chamber, perhaps prompting senators to advance the new resolutions as a back-up plan.

The whereas sections of the new measures state that while there are existing approved medicines, they “do not treat all mental health conditions” and studies “indicate that psilocybin has shown efficacy, tolerability, and safety in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions, including addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, and end-of-life psychological distress.”

The Senate separately approved non-binding resolutions with similar language and directives last year.

But whereas the current resolutions contain clauses calling on the working group to “develop a long—term strategic plan to ensure the availability of therapeutic psilocybin or psilocybin—based products that are safe, accessible, and affordable for adults twenty—one years of age or older,” that section was amended in committee on Wednesday to make it so the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would first need to act before the state would help facilitate patient access to the psychedelic.

The new language says the strategic plan would focus on enabling “the availability of psilocybin should FDA approval be obtained for medical use,” Chairman Jarrett Keohokalole (D) said ahead of the panel’s vote.

“So it’s a hypothetical long-term strategic plan,” the chairman said

The measures, which request the formation of a Therapeutic Psilocybin Working Group under the state Department of Health, say that “Hawaii has a shortage of mental health professionals, and should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its citizens.”

Here’s what the working group, as requested, would be asked to study: 

Federal, state, and local laws, regulations, administrative rules, and procedures regarding the therapeutic use of psilocybin.

Available medical, psychological, and scientific studies, research, and other information relating to the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating mental health conditions.

The requirements, specifications, and guidelines for a medical professional to prescribe and provide psilocybin to patients in jurisdictions where psilocybin is approved to treat mental health conditions.

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The body, which would be chaired by the head of the Health Department, which submitted written testimony against the resolutions.

“The Department recognizes that there is potential benefit of this substance and its impact on mental health; however, we are not there yet,” it said. “The studies that have been conducted to date have been small and very controlled. The studies have also paired psychotherapy with the use of this hallucinogen. Lastly, psilocybin is addictive and remains a Schedule 1 drug.”

Under the measures, the task force would be requested to submit a preliminary report with its findings and recommendations within 20 days of the legislature’s 2023 session. And a final report would be due shortly after the start of the 2024 legislative session. As of July 1, 2024, the group would be dissolved under the resolutions.

These resolutions are just examples of several psilocybin measures pending in Hawaii—including one that’s broader in scope by decriminalizing the substance and requiring the establishment of therapeutic psilocybin treatment centers—that have been introduced and could be taken up in the legislature this session.

What also remains to be seen is whether Hawaii lawmakers will have the appetite to advance a broader psilocybin bill that was filed for this session but has also yet to be scheduled for committee hearings.

The measure, which is virtually identical to a bill that was carried over from the 2021 session, would remove psilocybin and psilocyn from the list of controlled substances and require the Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of” the psychedelics. It would further create a review panel to study and submit reports on the impacts of the reform to the legislature.

The bill text is the same as the legislation that was carried over in 2021, except that the deadlines that the panel faced to submit their annual reports begins one year later in the new version.

Also last year, the state legislature adopted a resolution that asks the state to seek an exemption from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stipulating that it is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Hawaii is just one of numerous states where lawmakers and activists are taking the lead on psychedelics reform this year.

For example, the governor of Utah on Tuesday 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 on Monday held a hearing 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 last week 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 last year 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.

A Maryland House of Delegates committee held a hearing last week on a bill to create a state fund that could be used to provide access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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.

Also this month, 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.

A bipartisan coalition of Georgia lawmakers recently filed a 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.

Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills this 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.

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.

A pair of Michigan senators also introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline. Meanwhile, activists are collecting signature for an initiative that would legalize possession of psychedelics. The Hazel Park, Michigan City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine, making it the third city in the state to enact the reform following Ann Arbor and Detroit.

In a setback for the movement, California activists on Wednesday announced that they have come up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.

Colorado activists, meanwhile, recently selected one of the four psychedelics reform ballot initiatives that they drafted and filed for the November ballot, choosing to proceed with a measure to legalize psilocybin, create licensed “healing centers” where people can use the psychedelic for therapeutic purposes and provide a pathway for record sealing for prior convictions. A competing campaign filed a different psychedelics legalization last month.

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

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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