A bill that would allow the Department of Health to regulate magic mushrooms and allow adults to use them in controlled settings will not pass this session, according to state Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline), who sponsored the legislation.
The proposal, which was based on legislation Oregon adopted last year, would not decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for personal use. It would, however, give the DOH 18 months to create a bunch of rules around the process of growing mushrooms and selling them to "service centers," where trained and licensed trip-sitters would gently guide people over the age of 21 along the paths of their healing journeys.
The bill also provided for an optional "integration session" with clinical psychologists or other professionals, who would meet with patients after the psychedelic effects of the plant wore off.
And, with equity in mind, the legislation established a two-year period wherein only Washington state residents could acquire a license to grow or sell shrooms, or operate a service center.
Over the phone, Sen. Salomon said members from both parties expressed interest in the bill, and that their concerns centered less on drug use stigma and more on "the mechanics." He mentioned possible issues with the DOH, which might struggle to stand up a new regulatory framework for mushrooms while it has its hands full with COVID. He also said lawmakers wanted to "trouble-spot issues" around the potential for losing federal revenue for providing a safe place for people to use the medicine.
Salomon expressed disappointment in the outcome, but he said he was excited to push for a budget proviso that would "create a task force of stakeholders to look at [the bill] and issue-spot some implementation problems, such as the need to work with the Department of Justice to make sure they don't come down on us," and maybe handle some draft DOH rule-making prior to future passage.
The outcome will likely also disappoint the 300+ people who signed on in support of the bill during its hearing in the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee Wednesday morning. During the meeting, dozens of doctors, veterans, and researchers offered moving testimony about the well-documented benefits of using psychedelics to treat a bunch of intractable mental health issues, such as alcoholism and nicotine addiction, PTSD, and depression.
University of Washington clinical faculty Tony Rousmaniere attested to the strength of the growing body of research on psychedelic treatment and pointed to a letter supporting the legislation signed by 45 mental and behavioral health care professionals.
Matthew Griffin, who introduced himself as a West Point grad who did four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the three months following his experience with psychedelic mushrooms trumped the 12 years of counseling he secured in the Veterans Affairs system. "I believe this is a shot that Washington should take," he said. Three other veterans told similar stories.
Dana Phillips said longterm depression that followed an abusive relationship "greatly affected" her current relationship and her parenting. Then one day her husband took her on a "trip of a lifetime." The next day she woke up feeling alive and happy for the first time.
In the face of overwhelmingly positive testimony, some senators on the committee expressed skepticism. Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers said she knew of people who "had a bad trip," and asked if passing the bill wasn't "putting the cart before the horse." Democratic State Sen. Karen Kaiser suggested putting some "guardrails" around the proposal by creating a smaller pilot program.
Law professor and medical doctor Mason Marks, who serves on the advisory board of Oregon’s psilocybin mushroom regulatory system, said Washington would "definitely not" be putting the cart before the horse. He pointed again to science showing that the plants are "nontoxic" and "not addictive," and he reminded the committee that the Netherlands has been offering mushrooms over the counter for a while now and the sky hasn't fallen. He also mentioned a report from Denver showing that decriminalizing the plant led to "no significant impact on public safety."
Nathan Sackett, an assistant professor in addiction psychiatry at UW, sympathized with Rivers's concern, saying "the possibility of harm for some people when they do it in uncontrolled environments" certainly warranted caution, but he argued that possibility was "significantly reduced" in the regulated environment the bill described.
All those concerns aside, Sen. Salomon remains hopeful for pieces of the bill to get through the budgeting process.
In the meantime, the process to decriminalize shrooms in Seattle continues to limp along. Back in October, the city council unanimously passed a resolution to make psychedelic drugs the lowest priority for cops. The council wanted to hold off on doing anything more until the Legislature solidified its response to a Supreme Court decision that essentially decriminalized simple drug possession statewide, but lawmakers in Olympia gave themselves until the end of next year to figure that out, so it'll probably be a while.