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Washington state bill to legalize psychedelics stalls, but pilot program still possible

Esmy Jimenez, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE — Washington psychonauts will have to wait at least another year before therapy using psychedelic mushrooms is broadly legalized in the Evergreen state, but legislators could still approve a small pilot program to give veterans and first responders early access to the treatment.

During the 2022 legislative session, Sen. Jesse Salomon, a Democrat, originally sponsored a bill modeled after Oregon's Measure 109, which created a framework for mental health practitioners or "guides" to lead people on psychedelic trips after ingesting psilocybin. Oregon became the first state to allow adult use of psilocybin on Jan. 1.

The hallucinogenic compound naturally occurs in many species of mushrooms that grow in the Northwest and other regions around the world. When ingested, it produces powerful effects from changes in vision, thoughts and emotions.

Research has rekindled in the past few years on psilocybin's ability to treat a slew of mental illnesses, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, anorexia and smoking cessation. Many of the trials have been small in size but with positive results. The substance remains illegal at a federal level, though some researchers believe the Food and Drug Administration might some day approve the use of psychedelics in clinical settings.

Salomon's bill that would have allowed Washington residents to ingest the drug at certified facilities with mental health guides ultimately failed. However, another version, SB 5263, was reborn during this year's session and has eked through part of the state Legislature — just not as expected.

The bill, which passed the Senate and more recently, the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness on Wednesday, is mainly dedicated to research but a newly amended version also includes a pilot program that would allow first responders and veterans early access to the drug through the University of Washington's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.


"It's got a pretty good initial stamp of approval in the House and (Rep. Nicole Macri, a Democrat) made it a stronger bill by adding a pilot," Salomon said. "So you can draw some implication from that, but it's not across the finish line."

If passed, participants in the pilot study would have to be 21 and older, and have experienced substance use disorder, depression or anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. They would also have to pass an initial assessment before being accepted into the program. (Psychedelics are not recommended for people with more severe forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia because their symptoms can be exacerbated.) The pilot program would need to be implemented no later than Jan. 1, 2025.

The bill would also create three separate collaborations. One would be a Psilocybin Advisory Board through the Department of Health that would advise and share recommendations with the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board as well as the state Department of Agriculture.

A separate work group among those three agencies would also develop a regulatory framework, essentially a blueprint that Washington could use in the future if psilocybin legalization were to pass locally.


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