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Oregon’s Legal Psilocybin Framework: Year One

Amid the social and political turmoil that defined much of 2020-21, there have been a few bright spots. Those interested in the experiment of drug policy reform have their gazes fixed firmly on Oregon, to see for better or worse how precedents will be set. After legalizing psilocybin and decriminalizing controlled substance possession through Oregon Measures 109 and 110, respectively, the state is now engaged in building a regulatory framework for legalized psilocybin therapy.

This is, understandably, a process. Governor Kate Brown allotted $5.6 million for the measure’s implementation in the 2021-23 budget when Oregon entered a two-year program development period on January 1st, 2021. Since then, the state health authority has established the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board and its membership, which has compiled reports along with the Psilocybin Services Section on the safety and efficacy of the proposed practices to be incorporated into the initiative.

The advisory board met its initial deadline of June 30, submitting recommendations to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) concerning the available medical, psychological, and scientific studies related to the safety and efficacy of psilocybin for treating mental health issues. The research report was made available to the public on July 29. 

The OPAB has also partnered with the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) out of Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics. The collaboration aims to create a report on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of psilocybin services.

When asked to comment, Dr. Mason Marks, project lead for POPLAR and a member of the psilocybin advisory board, wrote back that, “The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board has accomplished a lot since it first convened in March 2021. The Board formed five subcommittees, published a review of scientific research, and made recommendations regarding psilocybin products and the training, licensing, and professional conduct of psilocybin facilitators. Some specific recommendations made by subcommittees include prohibiting synthetic psilocybin (at least initially), creating a broad curriculum outline for facilitator training programs, requiring all facilitators to pass a licensing exam regardless of their qualifications, and requiring all licensing applicants to submit a social equity plan.” 

“But a lot of work remains to be done to meet Measure 109’s June 2022 deadline for making final recommendations to the Oregon Health Authority,” he added. “For instance, more work should be done to determine how training programs become approved and the details of the exam facilitators must pass. There are also many details to be finalized regarding the psilocybin products that will be made available in Oregon and how to make the emerging industry and its psilocybin services accessible to everyone.” 

Dr Marks stressed that these comments were his own, and not the views of the OPAB or any other body, before adding that, “The ELSI Report will take a broader view, summarizing research from a variety of disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, religion, and law, to make recommendations to the Oregon Health Authority regarding rules for the implementation of Measure 109.  It has been gratifying to watch Board members come together to accomplish so much in so little time.” 

Goals and Challenges for Oregon’s Psilocybin Framework

At the end of September, OPAB voted to create a licensing program for psilocybin facilitators. An email response from Angela Albee, Manager of the Oregon Health Authority’s Psilocybin Services Section listed the following goals to achieve before the scheduled completion date.

  • Oregon Psilocybin Services will conduct listening sessions in December 2021 to provide an overview of Oregon Psilocybin Services and M109 and to hear from the public (see attached). Additional public listening sessions will take place in the summer of 2022.
  • Oregon Psilocybin Services is working on a Psilocybin Community Survey, to be administered in January of 2022. The survey will be voluntary and anonymous and provide an opportunity to better understand who has interest in licensure, training programs, and accessing services. Oregon Psilocybin Services will administer the survey through our distribution list, website, partner distribution lists, and will also issue a press release.
  • Oregon Psilocybin Services is working with the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board on recommendations for draft rules which will set the minimal requirements for the program.
  • Oregon Psilocybin Services will complete two rulemaking sessions in 2022. The first round of rulemaking in the spring of 2022 will focus on training programs and products. Training program and product rules will be adopted by June of 2021, in time for Oregon Psilocybin Services to begin receiving applications for training program approvals. The second round of rulemaking in 2022 will focus on the remainder of program rules. The final rules will be adopted by December 31, 2022 in time for OPS to begin receiving applications for licensure on January 2, 2023.

All of these goals are reasonable, and in keeping with the set timeline, but it seems some Oregonians are not content to wait. Underground psychedelic therapy practices, long operating on the fringes of established psychotherapy and social work, are thriving and receiving more attention than ever.

How these existing practices will be reconciled with a new state regulatory framework, and past criminal convictions, remains to be seen.

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