The first two months of 2023 have shown expansive interest in bold drug policy reform in state legislatures across the country—most recently, with the introduction of numerous new bills touching on everything from psychedelics legalization to authorizing safe drug consumption sites.
Lawmakers in several states will conduct hearings on such reform proposals over the next week.
The marijuana legalization movement continues to spread and evolve, but it’s become quickly apparent this session that legislators are eager to more holistically move away from prohibition and criminalization. Drug decriminalization, harm reduction and psychedelics reform have emerged as central to that effort.
Here’s an overview of some of the latest drug policy reform bills that lawmakers are filing across the country:
In Colorado, Rep. Elisabeth Epps (D) is sponsoring a bill that would permit cities to authorize the establishment of “overdose prevention centers” where people could use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive treatment resources.
The “Local Control of Life-saving Overdose Prevention Centers Act” would provide people with access to sterile consumption equipment, fentanyl testing tools, counseling, substance use treatment referrals and “other harm reduction services,” the bill text says.
“Preventable drug overdoses are a public health crisis that impact every Colorado community and are a matter of both local and state concern,” the measure’s finding section says. “For far too long, Colorado has disproportionately favored a criminal justice approach to substance use disorders instead of prioritizing public health.”
“Overdose prevention centers are proven to save lives and increase community safety,” it continues. “OPCs lead to decreased rates of communicable disease transmission, severely decrease in-public drug consumption, greatly reduce public litter of drug consumption equipment, and, in their surrounding neighborhoods, are associated with reduced crime.”
The first state-sanctioned safe consumption sites opened in New York last year, and officials say that they’ve already proven to provide life-saving support. The federal Justice Department is in active litigation over the legality of such facilities after blocking such a site from opening in Philadelphia under the Trump administration.
The Connecticut House Judiciary Committee has legislation on the table for this session that would decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin.
Effective October 1, 2023, people who are found to be in possession of up to one-half ounce of the psychedelic mushrooms would face a civil penalty of $150 for a first offense. For each subsequent offense, the fine would be between $200-$500.
A hearing is scheduled on the proposal for Wednesday.
A bill from Sen. Rachel Ventura (D) would require the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DFPR) to “authorize the distribution of, and make publicly available, psilocybin for medical, psychological, and scientific studies, research, and other information.”
Researchers would look into the “safety and efficacy of psilocybin and other entheogens to treat mental health conditions, including, but not limited to, addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, headache disorders, and end-of-life psychological distress,” a bill summary says.
DFPR would specifically be mandated to accept licenses for psilocybin manufacturing, service centers, therapeutic facilitating and testing.
Psilocybin would remain a Schedule I drug under the state’s drug code, but it would be amended to create the psilocybin exceptions for DFPR and researchers.
Rep. Jeff Shipley (R) recently filed a bill to remove psilocybin and psilocyn from the state’s list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing the psychedelics. A subcommittee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
In 2021, the lawmaker brought an identical measure before a legislative committee. It didn’t advance, but the bill helped set the tone for what’s become an expanding national conversation about ending psychedelics criminalization.
The legislator first filed a bill to get the policy change enacted in 2019, and then pursued the idea again the next year as an amendment to a spending bill. The standalone legislation died in committee and the amendment was defeated on the floor.
Dels. Sheila Ruth (D) and David Moon (D) have filed legislation that would make possession of “de minimus” levels of drug possession punishable by a civil fine of $100, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.
The bill lays out what is considered the minimum possession amount for certain controlled substances: 100 milligrams of cocaine, 65 milligrams of cocaine base (or crack cocaine), 60 milligrams of heroin, 200 milligrams (or two tablets) of MDMA, two units of LSD, two units of methadone, 60 milligrams of methamphetamine and two tables of hydrocodone or oxycodone.
People under 21 who are found in possession of low amounts of illicit substances could be referred to a drug education program approved by the state health department for assessments or treatment.
“A court that orders a person to a drug education program or substance use or mental health assessment or treatment…may hold the case sub curia pending receipt of proof of completion of the program, assessment, or treatment,” the bill text says.
A hearing on the measure is scheduled for Tuesday.
A Missouri GOP lawmaker, Rep. Dan Houx (R), recently filed a bill that would authorize a research partnership between the state Department of Health and Human Services and a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital to study the “efficacy of using alternative medicine and therapies,” including MDMA, psilocybin and ketamine.
Specifically, the researchers would need to explore the potential therapeutic benefits of the psychedelics on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression, substance misuse disorder and people in end-of-life care.
The department would be required to carry out a clinical trial involving psilocybin, review the existing scientific literature on the medical potential of these substances and assess “access that patients have to MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine for such treatment.”
Meanwhile, another Republican lawmaker in the state, Rep. Tony Lovasco (R), filed a bill this session that would provide therapeutic access to psilocybin for people with serious mental health conditions.
Both psychedelics measures are scheduled to be heard on Tuesday.
In New Mexico, Rep. Christine Trujillo (D) has introduced legislation to establish an eight-member “psilocybin advisory group” appointed by the governor that would be responsible for studying and making recommendations on the “feasibility” of creating a psilocybin therapy program in the state for patients with certain mental health conditions.
Members would specifically need to consider policies around psilocybin cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing, as well as “treatment guidelines for the use of psilocybin-derived products to treat certain mental health issues, including patient selection and provider training and certification.”
The advisory group would further need to “analyze research findings related to the use of psilocybin to treat patients with certain mental health or substance use disorders in a clinical setting” and “monitor policy developments related to the establishment of similar programs in other states, including legal and regulatory issues.”
Interim reports would be due to legislative committees of jurisdiction by November 1, 2023 and November 1, 2024.
“The psilocybin advisory group shall issue its final report to the governor, the legislative health and human services committee, the legislative finance committee and the legislature by December 1, 2025, including its findings and recommendations for legislative action or policy changes,” the bill text says.
Separately in New Mexico, the House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill this week that would create a state-run program for safe drug consumption sites where people could use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive treatment resources.
New York lawmakers recently filed bills to broadly decriminalize drug possession and legalize psilocybin therapy for patients with qualifying conditions.
The decriminalization legislation from Assemblymember Demond Meeks (D) would eliminate criminal and civil penalties for drug possession while also creating a task force that’d be responsible for studying and making recommendations about additional reforms.
A legislative findings section of the bill says that criminalizing people over drugs “causes significant harm to individuals who use drugs by disrupting and further destabilizing their lives.”
A person who commits a simple possession violation would no longer face a misdemeanor conviction; instead, they could either pay a $50 fine or participate in a “needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services.”
Meanwhile, Assemblymember Pat Burke (D) introduced a psilocybin therapy legalization bill earlier this month.
Under the proposal, people could receive psilocybin treatment from a certified facilitator in a clinical setting, or at their home if they’re unable to travel. Patients and facilitators would receive protections against state-level prosecution.
A Psilocybin Assisted Therapy (PAT) grant program would be established to “provide veterans, first responders, retired first responders, and low income individuals with the funding necessary to receive psilocybin and/or MDMA assisted therapy.”
Companion bills to both measures were previously filed in the Senate.
Vermont Rep. Joseph Troiano (D) filed a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possessing, dispensing or selling psilocybin psilocybin while establishing a new “Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group” to study the therapeutic potential of various substances.
The group would “examine the use of psychedelics to improve physical and mental health and to make recommendations regarding the establishment of a State program similar to Connecticut, Colorado, or Oregon to permit health care providers to administer psychedelics in a therapeutic setting,” the legislation says.
The body would study the benefits and risks of psychedelics as well as laws that other states have enacted to date and then issue a report to the legislature by November 15, 2024
The findings section of the bill details the results of several studies, including one showing “substantial antidepressant effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy.” (Full Story)