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News, Politics

Rhode Island House Greenlights Psilocybin Legalization, Paving the Way for Therapeutic Access

Mary Ekundayo

by Mary Ekundayo

June 21, 2023 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Rhode Island House Greenlights Psilocybin Legalization, Paving the Way for Therapeutic Access

Rhode Island has joined the list of states that have eased the restrictions on using and cultivating psilocybin mushrooms. The House of Representatives approved House Bill 5923 to this effect after it had garnered 54-11 votes. The bill was introduced by Rep. Brandon Potter (D) and secured passage last week from the House Judiciary Committee, gaining 12-2 votes. It is currently on its way to the Senate for approval.

The legislation permits Rhode Islanders to possess 1 ounce of psilocybin and cultivate magic mushrooms for personal use. There will also be measures put in place to control therapeutic access to psilocybin while awaiting federal reform. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this psychedelic would be used to treat chronic and life-threatening mental disorders, especially for patients with limited access to effective treatments. The Department of Health in Rhode Island will be responsible for developing the protocols for its cultivation, distribution, and medical prescription.

Sen. Megan Kallman (D) had recently put forward a Senate companion version of the legislation, which received a hearing in the chamber. However, members of the committee decided to allow further study on it before voting.

Speaking on the recent developments, Rep. Brandon Potter explained, “It is a step toward addressing mental health treatment in a modern way based on evidence and research.” He said that psilocybin can be used safely for both recreational and therapeutic purposes. Much more, it would be a valuable treatment tool for veterans and other people struggling with depression, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction.

He went on to explain, “Adults in our state deserve the freedom to decide for themselves and have access to every treatment possible, rather than have our state criminalize a natural, non-addictive, effective remedy.”

Psilocybin’s Questionable Legal Classification

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic chemical that is obtained from over 200 species of mushrooms, referred to as “magic mushrooms.” The compound was first isolated in 1959 by American researchers, and it was then used in psychotherapy. Its use became illegal in the 1970s following President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs. As such, further research couldn’t be done to explore its therapeutic use.

Federal laws currently classify psilocybin as a Schedule I drug alongside addictive drugs like cocaine and fentanyl. According to state laws, this hallucinogen belongs to the same groups as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. These designations imply that psilocybin has no medical use and only has a high propensity to be abused.

Supporters of the legalization of psychedelics have expressed concern over this improper classification that has lasted for decades. Sen. Kallman explained that psilocybin is not addictive and that “it’s naturally occurring and people have been using it recreationally and medicinally for thousands of years.” She also explained that it is “time to undo that mistake and give our neighbors struggling with chronic mental health illness, and all Rhode Islanders, the freedom to use psilocybin responsibly.”

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Recently, Sen. John Fetterman (D), the junior senator from Pennsylvania, expressed his full support for the use of psychedelics to treat mental health issues. His advocacy brings the drug reform movement to Capitol Hill. He explained that he has “been an advocate of psychedelics in terms of magic mushrooms for PTSD and for veterans especially.” It is important to note that Fetterman is the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research.

Oregon was the first state to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin in 2020, and Colorado followed suit in 2022. Other states like New York, Vermont, and New Jersey are currently exploring the possibility of legalizing it. Generally, there has been growing recognition and support for the use of psychedelics across the country. 

According to Rhode Island’s House Bill 5923, all criminal penalties would be removed from the possession or sharing of one ounce of psilocybin, as well as its cultivation. 

These recent legislative actions are believed to be timely because the FDA has now recognized the therapeutic value of psilocybin and they consider it a breakthrough therapy. In fact, it is expected that psilocybin and MDMA will be approved in the next few years. The Biden administration’s health officials are currently working on creating a task force responsible for dealing with psychedelics-related matters, meaning that there is hope for possible policy reforms.

The Sunset Provision

Before passing the legislation, the House Judiciary Committee endorsed a revised version of the bill with a sunset date of July 1, 2025. This was done to ensure accountability and transparency.

Before this date, the state attorney general is expected to give a detailed report to the legislative leadership on any misuse or abuse in psilocybin possession, distribution, or cultivation. Additionally, the head of Rhode’s Department of Health is to provide a separate report to the legislature detailing the FDA’s psilocybin scheduling and use of the psychedelic to treat behavioral and mental health issues.

Psychedelics Reform in Other States

Lawmakers in many states are actively involved in psychedelic reforms. In California, a bill that legalizes the use and possession of certain psychedelics was passed by the Senate last month.

In North Carolina, a House Committee endorsed the legislation to establish a $5 million grant initiative to aid the research of the therapeutic value of MDMA and psilocybin. A Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board was also set up to monitor the program.

The governor of Washington also signed a state bill that provided access to psychedelics to treat mental health issues. The bill also promotes research into the value of psilocybin.

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