Minnesota’s New Psychedelics Task Force Holds Its First Meeting On Monday

November 4, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

A Minnesota psychedelics task force charged with studying the medical benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and LSD and preparing the state for possible legalization will convene on Monday for its first meeting, at which members are expected to select a chairperson and lay out the trajectory of the coming months. The group must return a final report to the state with findings and recommendations by January 1, 2025, and at least one key lawmaker says he plans to file a reform bill shortly thereafter.

The meeting is happening more than three months late, according to a state omnibus bill passed in March that created the Psychedelic Medicine Task Force. But state Rep. Andy Smith (D), who sponsored a standalone bill to create the psychedelics task force this past session and was appointed to serve on the body by the House speaker, told Marijuana Moment he’s confident the task force will hit the ground running.

“Our team at the Department of Health has done a lot of work to kind of prepare the field,” Smith said in a phone interview on Friday, noting that they’ve already held trainings for members on technology and presentation software that the group will be using. “So sort of the nuts and bolts hopefully will be in place, where we can actually get to the introductory getting to know each other and electing a chairman pretty quickly.”

Of 25 posted positions for the task force, 24 have been filled. They include lawmakers and agency representatives as well as a host of others appointed by Gov. Tim Walz (D) with experience in health policy, mental health, substance use disorders, veterans health and psychedelic medicine.

Asked whether the representative for the Dakota tribes would be seated by Monday’s meeting, a representative for the governor told Marijuana Moment in an email that the task force “should be able to meet whether or not that person is appointed. They have a quorum.”

Smith said he’s “not privy” to the status of the final member, noting that it’s a governor’s office matter, but he felt that “the integrity, so to speak, of the task force is not hurt.”

“What I’m hoping for from this first meeting is to have a more solid idea of where we want to go,” Smith said. The task force is focused on three main drugs: MDMA, psilocybin and LSD, he noted, “and I think one of the first things we’ll do is sort of decide how we want to address each of those different things.”

An agenda for the meeting includes a welcome, roll call and introductions, refinement of the group’s charter, a review of open meetings rules and other procedures, the selection of a chairperson and the discussion of the group’s plan and cadence going forward.

Asked whether he planned to introduce psychedelics reform legislation following the task force’s findings, the lawmaker, whose term ends next year, replied: “Yes, absolutely.”

“I am already planning on running again,” he continued, “and if—and hopefully when—I’m re-elected and this task force gives their final report..my hope is to bring that legislation in that session.”

As for whether he would follow the task force’s recommendations exactly, Smith left himself some wiggle room.

“First and foremost, I am a representative of my constituents here in Minnesota,” he said. “I have to stick to my conscience there. But the reason we went this route is because I want to be dedicated to listening to the experts on this particular issue and be as responsible as possible.”

Smith also emphasized that he wants to hear from any Minnesotans with ideas or feedback on the way forward. “This can be followed by anyone. Please watch on YouTube and interact and reach out to the correct channels,” the lawmaker said. “If they think there’s an area that we’re not talking about—or they even [have] something simple as a great article or experience and they want to be part of the task force—email me, email other members of the task force.”

Kurtis Hanna, a longtime legalization advocate who works as a public policy and government relations strategist at the firm Blunt Strategies, has been working with lawmakers to build support for creating the group for more than a year.

After more than a decade of focusing primarily on marijuana, Hanna pivoted to work on psychedelics as the next frontier. “After the last election, I noticed we had the trifecta of DFL control,” he said. “I essentially said to myself, ‘I believe that my colleagues that are working on cannabis legalization will be able to get cannabis legalized,’ and I wanted to keep pushing the ball forward on drug reform in Minnesota.”

“Knowing that legalization was going to take a lot of the oxygen out of the room, I decided to pursue the task force as opposed to actual law reform out of the gate,” he said. “Here we are, one year—almost to the day—after the election last year, and this task force is going to be meeting, and they have a budget of half a million dollars to produce these two reports.”

While the final report isn’t due until the start of 2025, the body is required to file a preliminary report by February of next year.

Smith said he imagines the first report will be more about how the task force plans to approach the issues, with findings and recommendations reserved for its final report.

“This first report is going to be kind of like a syllabus—this is what we would like to do, this is how we’re going to go about this—rather than have any actionable steps in that first report,” he said.

Hanna, the lobbyist, also worked to influence some of the picks, he said. “Specifically the two Republican members, I lobbied the minority leaders’ offices and asked that they make these specific appointments, mainly because they were co-authors on the initial enabling language that created the task force in the first place.”

Hanna said that at the moment, he’s not representing any clients on the matter. It’s just an issue he cares about.

“I call it hobby lobbying. I just thought this is work that needs to be done, and I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time trying to track down a client,” he said. “Our organization is a social benefit company, and so we tackle issues that we think need to be done that no one else is doing.”

Lawmakers who have also been appointed to the task force so far include Sens. Kelly Morrison (D) and Julia Coleman (R), who were appointed by bipartisan Senate leadership, as well as Rep. Nolan West (R), a member appointed by the House minority leader who also served on the bicameral conference committee that finalized Minnesota’s newly implemented marijuana legalization law.

As originally introduced as a standalone bill, Smith’s psychedelics legislation would have required the task force to look at mescaline, bufotenine, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, 2C-B, ibogaine, salvinorin A and ketamine. But it was amended in committee to focus only on psilocybin, MDMA and LSD.

In addition to creating the psychedelics task force, the omnibus bill that the governor signed to create the Psychedelic Medicine Task Force also included provisions to establish safe drug consumption sites.

At the local level, the mayor of Minneapolis issued an executive order in July making the criminalization of possession, use and cultivation of psychedelics the city’s lowest law enforcement priority and generally preventing local resources from being used to aid federal and state actions against the substances.

Meanwhile, it became legal for adults 21 and older in Minnesota to possess and cultivate marijuana on August 1.

As for legal cannabis sales, regulators are seeking public input as they begin the process of crafting rules for the state’s new industry. The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) late last month released a new online survey that includes questions on cannabis cultivation, processing and manufacturing. Regulators say they’re hoping to hear from “the widest possible range of community members, advocates, and partners who want to help shape how the rules are drafted.”

A separate Minnesota law also took effect in August that legalizes drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, controlled substances residue and testing. (Full Story)

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