Washington State lawmakers have introduced a bill in the state legislature to authorize medical psilocybin for use under the supervision of healthcare professionals.
Filed by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D) and Sen. Liz Lovelett (D) last week, the bill titled the ‘Washington psilocybin service wellness and opportunity act’ requests the establishment of a similar framework to Oregon’s Measure 109, which would allow individuals 21 and over to opt for alternative psilocybin-assisted therapy for various ailments including mental health issues.
The bill text of the bill offers that making psilocybin available in the state could “improve the physical, mental, and social well-being”, and “reduce the prevalence of behavioural health disorders among adults in this state by providing for supported adult use of psilocybin under the supervision of a trained and licensed psilocybin service facilitator.”
“I see the bill as an acknowledgement that there’s some momentum to psychedelic legislative reform across the country,” Dr. Mason Marks, lead on the Project on Psychedelic Law and Regulation at Harvard Law School and member of Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board, says. Marks also contributed to the draft language of this latest Washington State bill.
Marks said the sponsors of bill SB 5660 closely evaluated the challenges and difficulties in crafting rules based on the statute created under Measure 109. Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy, after residents voted in favour of the ballot measure in November 2020.
“Learning from someone else’s experience, benefiting from that knowledge, and building upon it,” says Marks, “is what the sponsors of the bill have done. It is quite meaningful in terms of the additions that have been made.”
As a result, SB 5660 is the first psilocybin bill proposed at any level of government to include a social opportunity program to “promote social equity and accessibility,” the bill says, addressing injustices associated with the War on Drugs and lowering barriers to access for the industry to people who may have been disproportionately impacted.
To access the benefits under the social opportunity program, individuals would have to be from “distressed” or low-income areas, defined as those with fifty percent of children participating in the federal free lunch program, or at least 20 percent of the households in the area receiving service under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Another notable addition is the accessibility of psilocybin service remotely at home for a person “who is medically unable to travel to a psilocybin service center,” the 68-page-long bill says.
The state health department would “adopt rules for the implementation of a comprehensive regulatory framework” during the 18-month program development period ending on January 1, 2024.
A Washington Psilocybin Advisory Board would also be established within the health department “to provide advice and recommendations to the department.”
Under SB 5660, it would also be unlawful for employers to discriminate against their employees for accessing legal psilocybin services, unless it results in the “employee’s visible impairment at work”.
“It was important to address that from the very start and make it clear that employers cannot discriminate against their employees on that basis, because if you want to encourage people to avail themselves of these services, you don’t want them to endanger their livelihood,” says Marks.
In October, Seattle became the largest city in the United States to make the possession of psychedelic substances its lowest law enforcement priority. In a blog post following the decision, Seattle’s City Council expressed its support for the movement, saying in a statement that, “Entheogens, commonly known as psychedelics, have been shown to benefit the well-being of individuals suffering from depression, severe anxiety, problematic substance use, post-traumatic stress, end-of-life anxiety, grief, and intergenerational trauma. These and other physical and mental conditions are plaguing many communities, which have been further demonstrated to be exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19.”
In April 2021, the state also found itself in legal limbo after the Washington Supreme Court ruled on the case of State v. Blake, ending criminal penalties on simple possession of drugs. Later, state lawmakers approved temporary drug laws, making possession of small amounts of controlled substances a misdemeanour.