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Hawaii Approves Research into Psilocybin, Advocates Hope For More

hawaii approves research psilocybin

Things are moving in the right direction for therapeutic psychedelics in Hawaii!

On Thursday, a Hawaii House committee adopted a Senate-passed legislation requesting that the state organize a psilocybin working group to investigate the psychedelic’s medicinal potential.

While many pro-psilocybin advocates are happy to see lawmakers take some interest in the subject, others feel there need to be bolder, more forward-thinking moves made in reform. At the moment, the measure is non-binding, merely recommending that the state Department of Health organize a psilocybin working group. So it’s a “plan to make a plan”.

Here is a rundown of what this means for psilocybin initiatives in the future, and why it matters.

What’s The Hold Up?

While the measure may seem tentative, there is a reason that stronger attempts haven’t made their way into legislation yet. 

The state Senate adopted a similar psilocybin plan last month in the form of a binding measure that directs regulators to organize the working group rather than simply requesting it. The bill has since been referred to three House committees, but no hearings or votes have been scheduled in that chamber, which may explain why senators have rushed to advance a less prescriptive resolution as a back-up plan.

In the meantime, the more modest ​​resolution is being altered in the Senate to include provisions for drafting a patient access strategy, depending on federal approval of the substance.

What Exactly Is In The Bill

The current resolution, as submitted, asked for the working group to “develop a long-term strategic plan to ensure the availability of therapeutic psilocybin or psilocybin-based products that are safe, accessible, and affordable for adults twenty-one years of age or older.” 

However, that part was altered in the Senate to require the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act first before the state would assist in facilitating patient access to the psychedelic. A task force will be formed in response to reservations held by the state Department of Health.

The task force would be required to deliver a preliminary report with its findings and recommendations within 20 days of the legislature’s 2023 session, according to the legislation. A final report would be due soon after the commencement of the legislative session in 2024. The group would be dissolved as of July 1, 2024, according to the resolution.

[RELATED READING: Bill Aims to Legalize Psilocybin in Washington State]

What Are The Reservations?

In the request made for the formation of a Therapeutic Psilocybin Working Group under Hawaii’s Department of Health, it says that “Hawaii has a shortage of mental health professionals, and should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its citizens.”

The head of the Health Department provided written testimony in opposition to the resolutions when they passed through the Senate and ahead of the House committee hearing.

“The Department understands the potential value of this substance and its influence on mental health; but, we are not there yet,” it stated. “To yet, the trials that have been undertaken have been small and carefully controlled.” Psychotherapy was also used in conjunction with the use of this psychedelic in the research. Finally, psilocybin is addictive and is still classified as a Schedule 1 substance.

Past Psilocybin Efforts In Hawaii

This is not Hawaii’s first rodeo when it comes to psychedelics reform. This proposal is only one of several psilocybin bills circulating in Hawaii this session, including one with a broader reach that decriminalizes the substance and requires the construction of therapeutic psilocybin treatment clinics.

The bill, which is nearly identical to a bill carried over from the 2021 session, would remove psilocybin from the list of banned substances and require the Department of Health to “create designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of” the psychedelics. It would also establish a review commission to investigate and report to the legislature on the effects of the reform.

Last year, the state legislature passed a resolution requesting that the state seek an exemption from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allowing it to administer its medicinal cannabis program without federal interference.

Psychedelics Reform Across The US

This meager advance is surprising in light of all the advancements being made across the country.

The Colorado House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would align state statutes to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government eventually allows such use, and it was referred to the Senate.

Also this month, Georgia lawmakers passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the formation of a House research committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and propose reform recommendations.

Last week, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill to the governor that would establish a state fund to provide “free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine to military veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

​​Last month, Utah’s governor approved legislation to establish a task committee to investigate and offer recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs, as well as potential laws for their legal usage.

Last month also, a Missouri House committee held a hearing on a GOP-led bill that would allow a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use in authorized care facilities while decriminalizing low-level possession in general.

While there are some promising opportunities for further discussion and consideration of psilocybin reform in Hawaii with this newest bill, there is still a lot of work to be done. While it’s a step in the right direction, it’s like dipping your toe in the water to test it out, when they should be jumping into the deep end with all the advances other US states and cities have already taken.

Psychedelics and their use in therapy is an ongoing field that is worth fighting for. Stay tuned for how the measure plays out in the coming weeks and months.

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