Will Psilocybin Go Legal in Washington State?
The times they are a-changing for psychedelic legislation in state legislatures.
Oregon was the first US state to succeed in placing a comprehensive measure legalizing the practice and administration of psychedelic medicine in front of voters with Measure 109, the Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative of 2020. Since then, other states are following suit. In Washington State, advocates are hard on the case. Advocacy groups are working to bring an initiative to the state legislature in January 2022 with the intent of seeing a measure modeled on Oregon’s Measure 109 passed next year.
“This is legitimate medicine,” said criminal defense attorney and psychedelic advocate Pat Donahue who is involved in framing the language of the Washington initiative. “There are suffering people out there,” he said.
Daniel Covington, a senior consultant for an environmental consulting company is a member of the ADAPT-WA political action committee (PAC), a working group formed to draft legislation which will be put in front of Washington state legislators during the next legislative session. Mr Covington relocated from the neighboring state of Oregon, where he worked on that state’s successful initiative, for the purpose of working on the Washington ballot measure. The PAC’s idea, he says, is “to replicate the model of Measure 109 as much as possible.” It won’t be a carbon copy of Measure 109, he said, “but the basic premise will be very similar.”
The Oregon measure addresses who pays for real-world implementation of Measure 109. “Oregon has a state income tax,” said Mr Donohue. “Washington does not.” The underwriting mechanism in Washington State has yet to be determined, and will doubtless involve several different state agencies and numerous agendas.
Mr Donahue and his colleagues want to make sure the language they present to the legislature is clean, and not make the mistake of suggesting one state agency create a new tax collection structure to fund administration and implementation of a new statewide program when a different agency already has a mechanism in place to do so.
“The idea is to make legislators comfortable backing the initiative,” said Mr Donahue. “Oregon [Measure 109] passed by about 55%, and that sent a strong message to legislators that this [issue] isn’t as risky [to support] as they may have thought it was.”
Similar measures are popping up throughout the country. “I think the decisive victory in Oregon has given legislators [nationwide] a level of comfort in addressing this on their own,” said Mr Donahue.
While Oregon approached its legislation using a medical framework, there are other means of implementing statewide legalization of plant-based medicines, including a religious liberty framework. Regardless of how the states choose to legalize these substances, whether the initiatives use decriminalization, mental health, or religious practice as a starting point “we’re all trying to go the same direction,” said Mr Donahue.
The significance of having this initiative go to ballot in November of 2022, said Mr Donahue, is that for almost everyone who comes in his door there is some form of drug or alcohol or substance abuse at the heart of the issue, whether it’s a DUI or assault; even financial crimes often have to do with underlying substance abuse disorder. Mr Donahue has read some of the scientific research himself.
“Based on research out there and what I’ve personally observed, these molecules can [relieve] a tremendous amount of suffering. And, quite frankly, I find it appalling that we’re putting people in prison and messing up people’s lives for this,” he said.
The therapeutic model appeals to ADAPT-WA PAC board member Leo Russell. In her work as a licensed marriage and family therapist and as the director of the Entheo Society of Washington (a non-profit educational organization in Washington, State), she hears from clients who want some other medical option than those currently available to them: pharmaceutical medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and anxiolytics to name two. Her clients want alternatives like cannabis, or other plant based medicines.
In her twenty-plus years as a mental health professional addressing both chemical dependency and child welfare in King County and in Seattle, Ms Russell has seen substance abusers who are locked up in mental institutions—many of which are often for-profit institutions in Washington State. Chemical dependency treatment is mandated, in certain instances, through the Involuntary Treatment Act, Ricky’s Law which allows designated mental health professionals to detain a person with chemical dependence issues and, under certain circumstances, have them taken to a secure detox facility for treatment.
While in-patient treatment may work for some people, many find themselves in a revolving door. Some end up on the street, some get hurt, some die. “I think we’re in a mental health crisis not only in our state but in our nation and in our world,” said Ms Russell.
Mr Covington has seen the benefits of psilocybin therapy first hand. “Friends, coworkers, acquaintances turned their lives around – at their own risk – using plant medicine.” He has witnessed a lot of depression, including several employees in the small environmental consulting company where he works. He has, he said, a family member who “I would love to help under a more legal, safe framework.”
There are other groups that will benefit from a therapy-based initiative, among them a veteran’s advocacy organization, 22 Too Many which supports both psilocybin and cannabis for veterans.
There is some speculation about what might happen at the state level once the federal government decides to weigh in on reform of existing law.
“Here we are, what, eight, nine years after Initiative 502 [which legalized recreational cannabis in Washington] and the feds haven’t done anything,” said Mr Donahue. “They haven’t rescheduled cannabis. They haven’t provided any guidance, and that’s caused problems for a number of things like finance and banking. Maybe the movements that we’re seeing now regarding psilocybin and psychedelics will provide an impetus for the federal government to go back and readdress the Controlled Substances Act and update it—to be at least in line with modern science and what the data shows.”
For more information on the status of legislation in each of the fifty US states, see Psilocybin alpha’s useful Psychedelic Legalization & Decriminalization Tracker.