Washington’s House and Senate have both approved the “Washington Psilocybin Services Act” (SB 5263) and the bill awaits Governor Jay Inslee’s signature. Psilocybin is a schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act and is the psychoactive or “hallucinogenic” component of magic mushrooms. Washington appears set to follow in the footsteps of Oregon and Colorado in breaking from federal law on psilocybin controls. However, SB 5263 arises from legislative action rather than a ballot measure vote, and it prescribes an incremental, more conservative approach than the Oregon or Colorado programs.
In recent years, as the original bill noted, psilocybin has emerged as a promising therapeutic treatment for people suffering from a range of mental health disorders that are treatment resistant. Examples include post-traumatic stress disorder, end-of life anxiety, and depression. The Washington legislature acknowledged some important therapeutic facts about the use of psilocybin by citing that the FDA has:
“(a) Determined that preliminary clinical evidence indicates that 2 psilocybin may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapies for treatment-resistant depression; and
(b) Granted a breakthrough therapy designation for a treatment 5 that uses psilocybin as a therapy for such depression.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly note here that as a schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, psilocybin is considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That definition is clearly in conflict with the FDA findings cited by the WA legislature. But I digress. Still, the WA legislature’s acknowledgement of the FDA’s findings on the therapeutic use of psilocybin indicates that it is taking the point about the legitimacy of these treatments seriously.
The original Washington psilocybin bill
The original bill that was brought before WA legislators in January would have allowed adults over 21 years of age to use psilocybin under the supervision of licensed professionals “for wellness and personal growth”. The original bill came in at around 80 pages, and would have created a system for regulation and use of psilocybin.
Among its provisions was a 2-year development program period ending in September, 2025 after which people over 21 would have access to psilocybin services at psilocybin service centers. It also required that by January 2, 2024, the state would begin receiving applications for licensing people to manufacture psilocybin products, operate a service center, facilitate psilocybin services, and test psilocybin products. Unfortunately, the approved bill at around 10 pages long, canned most of the progress contained in the original bill.
The approved Washington psilocybin bill
The approved bill removes most of text of the original bill, including its milestones and mandates. Instead, it replaces them with task forces, advisory boards, and a University of Washington Pilot Program, with no end date for rulemaking and fact finding.
The Pilot Program will offer psilocybin services to qualified individuals and must be operational at UW by January 1, 2025. By contrast, the original bill would have allowed private, licensed psilocybin service centers to administer psilocybin treatment by the end of 2025. Requiring merely a pilot program to be operated at UW by January 2025 means that the opening of licensed service centers is unlikely until well afterwards. The findings and clinical data from the UW pilot program is probably intended to inform rule creation and implementation and therefore will need to be reviewed by all of the administrative bodies put in place as part of that process.
Governor Jay Inslee’s policy advisor for public health stated in an email earlier this year that “[the original bill] is not supported by the available scientific and medical evidence”. The approved bill is without meaningful mandates regarding policy goals and prescribed timelines. The result of that is sure to be a more protracted lawmaking process in spite of the rather impressive work in the original bill. With all of that said, given the Governor’s policy advisor’s hesitation on the original bill, this version of the bill is more likely to be approved.
Two steps forward, one step back
The approved bill is almost certainly an acquiescence to the concerns of lawmakers more skeptical of drug use that is not endorsed from on high by the FDA, and that seems to include the Governor himself. In spite of the growing and promising body of clinical data emerging from “psycho-therapy” clinics on the efficacy of these treatments, there remains a significant cohort of lawmakers and voters who just don’t (and probably won’t) get it. The approved bill is a step in the right direction, but it is a significant step backwards from the text of the original bill. For those excited about the prospect of a Washington with licensed psilocybin service centers, the approved bill has pushed that reality back to an unknown future date.
We’ll be monitoring developments here, so stay tuned to the Psychedelics Law Blog.