California Lawmakers Withdraw Bill To Authorize Psilocybin Therapy Pilot Program For Veterans And Former First Responders | Turn 420
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California Lawmakers Withdraw Bill To Authorize Psilocybin Therapy Pilot Program For Veterans And Former First Responders



California lawmakers have pulled from consideration a bipartisan bill that would have authorized a pilot program to provide psilocybin treatment to military veterans and former first responders.

The legislation, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones (R) and Sen. Josh Becker (D), was effectively killed about a week after it was amended to narrow eligibility criteria for participants and facilitators who could administer the psychedelic. The sponsors decided at a Tuesday hearing against seeking to advance it further after the chair of the Assembly Health Committee recommended a “no” vote and there wasn’t enough support in the panel to move it forward, advocates said.

The “Heal Our Heroes Act” was introduced as an amendment to an unrelated Senate-passed bill that was on the Assembly floor at the time. It would have allowed the counties of San Francisco, Santa Cruz and San Diego to establish pilot programs where military veterans and former first responders could receive psilocybin treatment with a licensed facilitator.

As filed, the measure said more broadly that “first responders” would have been eligible, without the “former” caveat. The legislation has also been updated to clarify that active duty military cannot participate.

The bill was further revised to limit who could qualify as a psilocybin facilitator. Only physicians and surgeons could administer the psychedelic under the current proposal, whereas it previously also included clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed professional clinical counselors or naturopathic doctors.

The bill called for the pilot program to sunset after three years, with requirements to collect data and submit reports on the impact of the reform after two years. There were also provisions mandating certain safety standards such as screening participants to ensure that they can safely benefit from the psychedelic treatment.

In an analysis of the legislation, the Assembly Public Health Committee listed a series of concerns, arguing that the proposal lacks a sufficient regulatory framework, has “sparse” health and safety standards and comes with an “unclear urgency” for the reform.

“This narrative does not encompass all of the Committee’s concerns in these regards, but demonstrates the significant lack of parameters and guardrails in this bill,” it said. “The proponents of this bill have stated that local control is a key element for a pilot program, arguing that locals need to be able to make it work for their own community. But local control cannot come at the expense of patient safety.”

“This bill is authorizing the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances that are not being utilized under the strict parameters of clinical research have nor have they been subjected to the rigorous drug approval process of the FDA. Safeguards need to be in place to ensure that each pilot program is established and run in a manner that is safe for participants, scientifically sound, meeting local and state health standards, and is producing conclusions of value for the state.”

Jesse Gould, founder of Heroic Hearts Project, said in a press release that the “Legislature has again failed veterans, first responders, and the 130,000 veteran families that have lost a loved one to suicide.”

“We applaud the legislators that supported SB 803 and its previous iterations, and are undeterred in our fight to find effective solutions to reduce Veteran suicide and the Veteran mental health crisis,” he said.

Amber Capone, CEO of VETS, said the decision “marks a significant setback in our fight to provide veterans with effective treatments for PTSD and other severe mental health crises.”

“SB 803 promised a new pathway to healing for those who have served our country,” she said. “Voting down legislation that provides access to healing is a missed opportunity that denies hope to our veterans. We won’t give up.”

The measure’s introduction came weeks after a Senate committee also effectively killed a broader bill that would have legalized psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could have accessed psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

The revised bill was also coauthored by Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R), who is also sponsoring a separate psychedelics bill focused on promoting research and creating a framework for the possibility of regulated therapeutic access that has already moved through the Assembly this year with unanimous support.

Advocates also remain disappointed that a broader psychedelics measure from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) stalled out during its final Senate committee stop last month.

It had been drafted in a way that was meant to be responsive to concerns voiced by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last year when he vetoed a broader proposal that included provisions to legalize low-level possession of substances such as psilocybin.

Instead, the revised bill would have provided regulated access to psychedelics in a facilitated setting, without removing criminal penalties for possession outside of that context. It did not lay out any specific qualifying medical conditions that a person would need to have in order to access the services.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Separately, a California campaign to put psilocybin legalization on the state’s November ballot recently announced that it did not secure enough signature to qualify in time for a deadline.

Another campaign filed and then abruptly withdrew an initiative to create a $5 billion state agency tasked with funding and promoting psychedelics research last year.

A third campaign also entered the mix late last year, proposing to legalize the possession and cultivation of substances like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline. People could buy them for therapeutic use with a doctor’s recommendation. Advocates for that measure still have time to gather and turn in signatures.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has since released its review of that proposal, outlining not only the plan’s policy implications but also its potential fiscal impacts on the state—which the report calls “various” and “uncertain.”

Some California municipalities, meanwhile, are pushing forward with reform on the local level. The city of Eureka, for example, adopted a resolution in October to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi and make enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change. Others include San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Arcata.

Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.

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