Psilocybin Update - House Amendment fails; Oakland Decriminalizes

House Amendment to Allow for Further Research into Psilocybin Fails

Just last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed an amendment to an appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year, removing provisions that block research opportunities for scientists studying the medical benefits of certain Schedule I drugs. The push to reclassify psilocybin for medical has been escalating since researchers at Johns Hopkins University determined that the drug - found in hallucinogenic mushrooms - could be used to treat people suffering from addiction, anxiety, depression and PTSD. The analysis on this topic was published by Neuropharmacology over a year ago, but policy shifts are now being seen in places such as Oakland, California and Denver, Colorado where drug reform has remained an important issue to its constituents.

Unfortunately, the amendment failed to pass and was rejected by the House on June 14th, 2019.

AOC, Congressional trailblazer

AOC, Congressional trailblazer

AOC’s Amendment Shows Progress

As city-focused initiatives have become increasingly successful in advancing this cause, it is no surprise that progressive trailblazers like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are starting to press the issue in the House. Even though this amendment did not pass, the fact that the house is debating these issues is a sign of progress.

Last week AOC wrote on Twitter demanding action for the cause of entheogen decriminalization: “From the opioid crisis to psilocybin’s potential w/ PTSD, it’s well past time we take drug use out of criminal consideration + into medical consideration.” The policy that Ocasio-Cortez hopes to overturn has been added to existing legislation funding the U.S. Department of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education dating back to 1996. If the measure passes, it would be a huge win for the medical research community.

The importance of these resolutions cannot be overstated, as they demonstrate both a cultural and scientific conviction about the health benefits of entheogens when used responsibly.

Oakland Decriminalizes Psilocybin

In other related news, earlier this month, the Oakland City Council voted in favor of decriminalizing the possession of plants and fungi containing “entheogenic” compounds (more commonly referred to as “psychedelics”). This include psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, mescaline and ibogaine. The resolution put forward by the council would effectively eliminate any city funds or law enforcement resources used to arrest and prosecute people in possession of entheogenic plants. This measure was largely built around an educational campaign initiated by Decriminalize Nature Oakland, a community group advocating the therapeutic benefits of using entheogens. A study from 2016, also conducted by John Hopkins researchers, even found that psilocybin produced sustained decreases in both depression and anxiety in patients facing life-threatening cancer. The resolution in Oakland immediately followed a ballot initiative approved in Denver several days earlier decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms (but not the other entheogens included in Oakland’s initiative). As momentum for the cause increases, other advocates are pushing for statewide decriminalization of psilocybin in California and Oregon on the 2020 ballot.

Decriminalization does not mean full legalization but some are arguing that it is a better pathway than the full-scale commercialization that would accompany taxing and regulating psychedelics. The Oakland resolution also shows further evidence that local jurisdictions are taking drug policy into their own hands, rather than waiting for guidance from Federal or state governments.

For further reading and background on this topic check out Michael Pollan’s 2018 book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.”


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Lauren Estevez is an attorney who advises international, multi-state and California cannabis brands, operators, and investors. She is nationally recognized as a subject matter expert in Cannabis Law and her work has been featured on CNBC, Bloomberg Law, and SXSW. The National Law Journal awarded Lauren the recognition of Cannabis Law Trailblazer in 2019. Lauren is the founder of LME Law.