A psilocybin research bill has now passed both chambers of Washington State’s legislature, although lawmakers will still need to reconcile the differences between versions passed by the House and Senate before sending the measure to Gov. Jay Inslee (D).
House approval of the bill happened on Tuesday, with representatives voting 87–10 to send the measure back to the Senate. Prior to the vote, the body signed off on a committee amendment to create a limited clinical pilot program to study the use of therapeutic psilocybin to treat trauma, mood and substance use disorders in veterans and first responders.
The Senate last month passed a previous version of the bill without the pilot program. The Senate has until April 23 to concur with the amended legislation, ask the House to remove the change or send the matter to a conference committee.
Rep. Nicole Macri (D), whose amendment added the pilot program to the bill, said the House-amended measure would allow Washington to make progress toward “responding to the trauma that too many of our constituents are dealing with.”
“This bill will allow us to learn more about how we can apply psilocybin services to addressing not only the trauma impacts that our military veterans and first responders have experienced, but other behavioral health conditions,” said Macri, “and help all of us work through how we move towards a regulated approach to psilocybin in our state.”
The bill, SB 5263, began the session as a much broader legalization proposal. As introduced by Sens. Jesse Salomon (D) and Liz Lovelett (D), it would have allowed adults 21 and older to lawfully use psilocybin under the care of trained, state-licensed facilitators—similar to the system approved by Oregon voters in 2020.
In Senate committees, however, centrist Democrats subsequently gutted the bill, removing legalization provisions and instead creating a task force and advisory group to study the issue and provide recommendations on how the state should proceed.
Macri later added in the clinical pilot program through an amendment late in the House Appropriations Committee. The change would establish a program led by the University of Washington (UW) to treat veterans and first responders diagnosed with PSTD, mood disorders or substance use disorders.
In an email to Marijuana Moment last week, Macri said the concept for a pilot program initially came from Salomon, though she then adjusted the plan to make it more feasible politically.
“I built on that pilot concept by talking with the UW and the governor’s staff about an approach they thought would add value, and that the governor would sign into law,” Macri explained. “My intent is to quicken the path to regulating the use of psilocybin as a wellness service by bringing forth findings about its effectiveness in real life circumstances.”
The lawmaker, whose district is in Seattle, added that she “received more constituent emails in support of the original Senate bill than any other this session.”
“With the addition of the pilot to the bill, Washington will be able to contribute something meaningful to this area of focus that others are not doing,” she said. “Clinical trials of psilocybin to date have generally been small and focused on one disorder without comorbidities, in a highly controlled environment. This is not necessarily a good indicator of the effectiveness of psilocybin in real life circumstances.”
Under the newly passed bill, the UW clinical pilot program would need to “offer psilocybin therapy services through pathways approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.”
Some critics, including leaders of the Psychedelic Medicine Alliance Washington (PMAW), worry that despite the pilot program’s good intentions, the half-step could actually slow wider access by encouraging lawmakers to delay further reforms until the study is concluded—a process that could take years.
Tatiana Luz Quintana, one of the group’s co-directors, said PMAW had called for a different kind of pilot program, one that would instead send Washingtonians to Oregon to receive legal psilocybin services there.
“We had hoped this would give real world information to lawmakers about the outcomes for clients after receiving psilocybin,” she said, “and also not block us from reintroducing the [legalization] bill next year. An FDA trial will not offer meaningfully broader access.”
Macri, for her part, said she discussed the issue with colleagues and “on balance feel like adding the pilot will actually help in the long-run.”
“Many legislators are open to implementing a regulatory framework, but most still have many questions and concerns. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how quickly this issue has built momentum,” she told Marijuana Moment. “But it has also become clear to me this session that the majority of my colleagues want more information before allowing broad access.”
Lawmakers heard earlier this year from Anthony Back, a Seattle doctor and professor of medicine at UW who is currently leading a clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted therapy for doctors and nurses with depression and burnout related to their frontline work on the COVID pandemic.
“Obviously it would be lovely if we could wait until incredibly definitive results were in from everything,” Back testified to a Senate committee. “But what I can share is that what I have seen so far are some remarkable responses for clinicians who were suffering in a way that completely blocked their ability to do the work they love.”
He warned lawmakers that denying adults access to legal psilocybin carries its own set of health and safety risks.
“I have already heard accounts of desperate clinicians who are seeking underground care,” he said, “including a nurse who was sexually assaulted by an underground provider who was unregulated, unlicensed, unaccountable.”
A number of other drug policy bills have also advanced through both houses of Washington’s legislature this session but are also waiting for Senate action on different versions of the measures passed by the House.
On Wednesday, the House passed a measure that would enable state-licensed businesses to engage in interstate cannabis commerce once federal officials allow it. Supporters say the measure will one day allow Washington cannabis businesses to export cannabis to states without established marijuana systems. A minor House amendment fixed a typo in the Senate-approved version, and the measure now heads back to the originating chamber for concurrence.
Another measure on the verge of becoming law would prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants who used or tested positive for marijuana before being hired. The protection would not apply to workers once employed.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman