Vermont Lawmakers Consider Removing Psilocybin Legalization Provision From Psychedelic Study Group Bill

A Vermont legislative panel continued its consideration on Thursday of a bill that would legalize psilocybin in the state and establish a work group on how to further regulate psychedelics for therapeutic use.

Though members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took no formal action on the measure, S. 114, they heard invited testimony and signaled their openness to making a number of changes to the underlying proposal—including removing the legalization portion and instead making that an issue for the work group to study.

“It could be that decriminalization is going to get in the way of therapeutic use,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons (D), the committee chair. “What we’re looking for is the value of therapeutic use.”

Other possible changes to the bill raised by lawmakers during the hearing included adjusting the membership of the work group, for example to remove members of the legislature and add a representative from the University of Vermont Medical School—something Lyons suggested during the committee’s initial consideration of the bill last month.

Additional members of the panel would include representatives from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the state Office of Professional Regulation and the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature.

As introduced, the legislation would remove psilocybin from the state’s list of prohibited drugs, effectively legalizing the psychedelic fungi.

It also calls for the establishment of a Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group that would be required to “examine the use of psychedelics to improve physical and mental health and to make recommendations regarding the establishment of a State program” like those that are being implemented in Oregon and Colorado.

On the House side, lawmakers considered a companion bill, H.371, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last May.

At Thursday’s Senate hearing, lawmakers heard testimony from three psychedelics experts, including Charles MacLean, the associate dean of primary care at the University of Vermont, who gave a broad overview of the history and science of psychedelics.

He also shared the results of a survey of hundreds of primary care physicians in Vermont. Doctors responded that they generally believe psychedelics are medically promising—albeit potentially overhyped—and not particularly harmful to one’s health. Majorities did, however, express concerns about youth access and potentially increased driving risks.

Specifically, 56 percent of respondents said they believe psychedelics “have a high therapeutic potential,” while 40 percent said they were neutral. Only 4 percent of respondents disagreed.

More than three in four (77 percent) said they were interested in learning more about psychedelics, and almost two-thirds (64 percent) said they agreed or strongly agreed that researching the risks and benefits of psychedelics should be a high priority.

More than seven in 10 surveyed doctors (71 percent) said they were moderately to very concerned about psychedelic use among youth, however, while more than six in 10 (61 percent) were concerned about driving safety.

Only 17 percent, meanwhile, felt psychedelics are “deleterious to one’s health.”

Katherine MacLean, a former researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who studied under the late psychedelics pioneer Roland Griffiths, shared her own experience with psilocybin, without which, she said, “I’m not sure that I would be alive today.”

Criminalizing the substances, she said, creates the risk of further harm.

“I’ve always had a fear of what would happen if something criminal came out of my own desire to ease my suffering,” she told the panel. “It’s a concern I live with every day, and I know that other parents and caregivers think about this, you know, ‘What would happen if I have to treat my headaches but someone found out that I was using an illegal drug?’”

“I would love to remove that fear and concern for people who are just trying to feel better,” she added.

The former researcher also noted that she’s worked with people who’ve been harmed by psychedelic practitioners. She said her “enthusiasm is only slightly dimmed by these examples,” explaining that much of the problem resulted from victims being unable to step forward.

“Some of these women who have been harmed, either sexually or emotionally or financially by unscrupulous practitioners, those folks have licenses,” she said. “They were medical doctors, they were therapists, they had review boards. They should have been following the ethics of their profession, but they weren’t. And the women were afraid to come forward because of the criminal nature of the drugs that were used.”

When the committee raised the possibility of removing the legalization provision from the bill and instead having the would-be work group provide recommendations on the policy change, MacLean said she was open to the idea but would prefer to see changes sooner rather than later.

“There’s certainly a sense of urgency, but I don’t think another year is going to make a big difference,” she said. “So if this is the smarter way to do it, to ensure that it’s considered fully— but I also think that if there’s the possibility of the decriminalization part being considered, it would be amazing.”

Lyons, the panel chair, called the feedback “terrific testimony” and indicated the panel was likely to make further changes before advancing the bill for the session.

In other drug-related actions this session, Vermont’s House also recently passed a bill to legalize and fund safe consumption sites, part of a pilot program aimed at quelling the ongoing epidemic of drug-related deaths. It’s another attempt by lawmakers to allow the facilities following Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) veto of a 2022 measure that would have established a task force to create a plan to open the sites.

Lawmakers in states across the U.S. are gearing up for what has already proved to be an active year for psychedelics reform in 2024.

This week, for example, the Arizona Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would legalize psilocybin service centers where people could receive the psychedelic in a medically supervised setting.

A Missouri Senate committee approved a bill this week that would legalize the medical use of psilocybin for veterans and fund studies exploring the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.

The governor of New Mexico recently endorsed a newly enacted resolution requesting that state officials research the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and explore the creation of a regulatory framework to provide access to the psychedelic.

The Connecticut legislature’s joint Judiciary Committee filed a bill to decriminalize psilocybin.

An Illinois senator recently introduced a bill to legalize psilocybin and allow regulated access at service centers in the state where adults could use the psychedelic in a supervised setting—with plans to expand the program to include mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

Alaska House and Senate committees are considering legislation that would create a task force to study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy in anticipation of eventual federal legalization of substances like MDMA and psilocybin.

Lawmakers in Hawaii are also continuing to advance a bill that would provide some legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval.

New York lawmakers also said that a bill to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in that state has a “real chance” of passing this year.

An Indiana House committee, meanwhile, approved a Republican-led bill this week that would fund clinical research trials into psilocybin that has already cleared the full Senate.

Bipartisan California lawmakers also recently introduced a bill to legalize psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could access psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

A Nevada joint legislative committee held a hearing with expert and public testimony on the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin last month. Law enforcement representatives also shared their concerns around legalization—but there was notable acknowledgement that some reforms should be enacted, including possible rescheduling.

The governor of Massachusetts recently promoted the testimony of activists who spoke in favor of her veterans-focused bill that would, in part, create a psychedelics work group to study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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