Washington Senators Strip Psilocybin Bill Of Major Provisions, With Advocates Blaming Governor

February 20, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

A Washington State Senate committee approved a massive overhaul to a psilocybin services bill on Thursday, gutting sections that would have legalized use of the psychedelic drug by adults—and reform advocates in the state are blaming the governor for being behind the move.

As originally filed last month, SB 5263 would have put Washington on the road to regulating psilocybin services much like its neighbor Oregon. Adults 21 and older would have been able to legally use the drug with the support of a trained facilitator, and regulators would have begun accepting license applications for product manufacturers, service centers and product testing labs by September 2025.

The new changes to the bill made in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee scrap those provisions, constraining the proposal to simply studying the issue. Rather than commit to legalization, the revised bill would aim to “provide advice and recommendations on developing a comprehensive regulatory framework for access to regulated psilocybin.”

While the revised legislation still makes references to potential licensing of businesses and service providers in the future, it specifies no timeline for those provisions to take effect.

Mason Marks, a senior fellow and project lead on the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at Harvard Law School, said the bill “basically kicks the can down the road.”

“The replacement bill removes the core sections of SB 5263, transforming it from a supported adult-use bill to a policy analysis bill,” Marks told Marijuana Moment. “The substituted bill approved by Labor and Commerce would merely create a task force and a state psilocybin board to research the creation of a regulated psilocybin program.”

He described a commitment to further study as “the most conservative approach a state can take” to reform.

Observers—and even some lawmakers—were caught off guard by the sweeping changes in the amendment adopted Thursday. SB 5263’s sponsor, Sen. Jesse Salomon (D), told Marijuana Moment: “I don’t have a comment yet.”

“I am going over the implications of the amendment and frankly, sorting out how I feel about it,” he said in an email following the vote. “Obviously we wanted the policy as a whole to pass this year, but this amendment and the apparently wide support (we will know for sure as soon as the vote is recorded) is encouraging.”

The Senate panel passed the revised legislation on a bipartisan voice vote, with all or nearly all members of the panel voting in favor.

“I think the key is demonstrating this is not a scary future if we move the broader policy,” Salomon continued. “Clearly the only way for us to do that now is in steps.”

Lawmakers adopted the substitute with little discussion or debate at Thursday’s hearing. Ranking Republican member Sen. Curtis King said he supported the revised bill and thanked Sen. Karen Keiser (D) for sponsoring the amendment.

“I want to compliment you on your work with this proposed sub,” King told Keiser, who is also the committee chair. “I think you’ve taken a very thorny issue and put some sideboards around it.”

Keiser in turn thanked King and acknowledged the measure will need further changes. The 55-page substitute, she admitted, “is not a refined bill.”

“We did it in the last two days, pretty much,” she said. “It will be going to Ways and Means, and we can further improve it there.”

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is expected to hear the bill on Tuesday.

Reached via email Thursday evening, Keiser told Marijuana Moment that she offered the amendment because of “grave concerns about the original bill, as I was witness to the problems that grew out of passing medical cannabis without enough structure for a regulatory system that ensured a safe product and a licensing system that had real oversight.”

“I have worked to keep the bill moving and advancing the process to open psilocybin access with a regulated, and transparent product that has great potential and perhaps some risks that [must] be managed too,” Keiser said. “In addition, the task force set up last year will not be submitting its recommendations until December of this year, so passing a comprehensive bill before the task force is able to do its job, is the definition of putting the cart before the horse.”

Keiser denied speculation from some reform advocates who suspected that Gov. Jay Inslee (D) had requested the original bill be scuttled.

“I did not have any discussion or contact with the governor about this bill, although I did hear that the governor was not in support of the original proposal,” the senator said. “For that matter, I have no idea if the governor has any position on the substitute bill we passed.”

But Jaime Smith, executive director of communications for Inslee, told Marijuana Moment that the governor’s office had “been in touch with Sen. Saloman about his legislation” and “discussed the bill with Sen. Keiser as well,” although she offered no specifics.

“The substitute includes some provisions we appreciate, such as altering the membership of the workgroup to include some perspectives we think will be valuable and additional time for the workgroup to complete its report,” Smith said. “We’ll continue watching the bill as it moves forward and remain very interested in the work group’s efforts.”

This is the second time Salomon has sought to legalize psilocybin services through the legislature. Early last year, he introduced a similar measure, SB 5660. While that measure received a hearing, it did not ultimately advance out of committee.

“Last year the bill died,” Salomon told Marijuana Moment. “That is not the case this year. I guess that could be called progress.”

Advocates at the Psychedelic Medicine Alliance Washington, who supported legalization, expressed some disappointment with the substitute bill but said they will push “for this new bill to be as flexible and inclusive as possible.”

“Gov. Inslee forced the Senate to amend SB5263 to remove Psilocybin Services and has turned it into an unnecessary research bill, putting Washington on par with states like Arizona and Oklahoma,” the group said in an email blast to supporters, “leaving us in the dust behind Oregon and Colorado who have both passed initiatives to increase access to psychedelics.”

“Despite strong bipartisan support and broad public support for increased access to alternative medicines, the governor single handedly decided to gut our bill,” it said.

Separately on Thursday, a Washington House panel advanced a bill to legalize home cultivation of cannabis. Washington is the only state where cannabis is legal that classifies homegrow as a felony.

That House panel advanced two other cannabis-related bills: One, HB 1650, would allow local governments to enact bans on marijuana businesses only with voters’ approval. The other, HB 1822, would allow operators of short-term rentals, such as AirBnbs, to provide adult guests with small amounts of complimentary alcohol or cannabis.

Earlier in the week, the same committee approved an amended measure that would allow Washington marijuana businesses to engage in interstate commerce once changes in federal cannabis policy allow it. A companion bill on the Senate side cleared its own committee hurdle last month.

Bills to promote social equity in the cannabis industry and provide employment protections for adults who use marijuana have also advanced through initial Senate committee votes this session.

Separately, state lawmakers are reconsidering drug possession penalties and related issues. Following a state Supreme Court decision in February 2021 that invalidated the state’s felony law against drug possession, lawmakers enacted a temporary criminalization policy that is set to expire on July 1. (Full Story)

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