Massachusetts Governor Touts Activists’ Support For Her Veterans Bill That Would Create Psychedelics Work Group

January 24, 2024 · Marijuana Moment

The governor of Massachusetts is promoting the testimony of activists who spoke in favor of her veterans-focused bill that would, in part, create a psychedelics work group to study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin.

During a hearing before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs on Tuesday, psychedelics reform advocates urged members to pass the Honoring, Empowering, and Recognizing our Servicemembers and Veterans (HERO Act) that Gov. Maura Healey (D) introduced last month.

This comes as lawmakers are also being asked to consider a separate proposal to legalize substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca for adults. If legislators decline to enact that reform, activists will have a chance to collect additional signatures to place it on the state’s November ballot.

The psychedelics-related provisions of the governor’s veterans bill, meanwhile, are more limited in scope. The proposal wouldn’t immediately create a framework for legal access, but it would require the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS) to convene a working group to study “alternative therapies for mental health treatments for veterans” and exploring “whether psychedelic therapy is associated with improved outcomes among veterans with diagnosed mental health disorders.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Emily Oneschuk—a Navy veteran and campaign director for Massachusetts for Mental Health Options (MMHO) that is behind the psychedelics ballot push—testified about her own transformative experience with psilocybin-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The entire process helped me weave the disparate and difficult pieces of my life together in a way that I couldn’t access in traditional talk therapy and the effects of that retreat stay with me to this day,” she said. “I’ve seen this work for myself, for my peers and for countless others who ran out of options and I’m hoping to make it accessible to the people who need it most.”

Oneschuk’s testimony was one of several examples of psychedelics-centered comments referenced by the governor’s office in a press release Tuesday that broadly advocated for the enactment of her veterans bill.

Sam Chapman, executive director of the Healing Advocacy Fund, was also quoted in the governor’s release, saying that the HERO Act “supports the study of psychedelic medicine as a new tool for mental health care for those struggling with PTSD, including our veterans.”

“Massachusetts veterans answered the call to serve their state and country, and they deserve to have access to the care they need when they return home,” he said.

Winthrop Police Department Lt. Sarko Gergerian submitted testimony for the hearing criticizing “barriers in place at the federal and state level that have for too long prevented the creation of a scientific evidence base around psychedelic medicines.”

“This bill offers a good step in correcting the errors of the past—a move that will add to the scientific base related to these therapies,” he said.

The panel that would be created under the governor’s legislation would need to “evaluate literature, research trials and expert opinions to determine in psychedelic therapy is associated with improved outcomes regarding mental health treatment for veterans.” And it would be required to issue recommendations “regarding the provision of psychedelic therapy to treat veterans with mental health disorders in Massachusetts.”

The legislation limits the scope of psychedelics that should be studied to psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine.

The secretary of EOVS would need to appoint to the working group two members representing medical centers that serve veterans, two members representing health insurance companies, two members representing veterans service organizations, one member representing an organization that’s currently studying psychedelics therapy and any additional members seen fit to complete the research.

The working group would need to file a report with findings and recommendations with the clerks of the House and Senate and two joint legislative committees no later than January 1, 2025.

“The HERO Act represents a visionary commitment by our administration to redefine the landscape of veterans’ services for Massachusetts,” the governor said broadly of her legislation. “At its core, the bill ensures that veterans receive proper support by expanding benefits, modernizing services, and reaching more veterans and families.”

“Together, we can ensure that Massachusetts not only does right by our veterans, but leads the nation in providing the best veterans’ services,” she said. (Full Story)

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