Alaska House Panel Takes Testimony On Bill To Create Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Task Force Ahead Of Federal Rescheduling

Alaska House Panel Takes Testimony On Bill To Create Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Task Force Ahead Of Federal Rescheduling

A House committee in Alaska held a hearing Thursday on a bill to create a state task force that would study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy—a plan supporters say will help prepare the state for the forthcoming federal approval of substances such as MDMA and psilocybin.

At the meeting of the House State Affairs Committee, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennie Armstrong (D) told members that given federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) likely sign-off on psychedelic-assisted therapy, it’s important that Alaska be prepared at the state level.

“The state has to do this work anyway,” she said. “We think it’s better to have it be done by a group of very passionate volunteers from across the state, from different groups, and be prepared, so that when this medicine is medicalized, we don’t have folks showing up to their doctor saying, ‘I want this,’ and they go, ‘Oh, sorry, the state hasn’t figured out licensing yet!’”

Armstrong emphasized that the Mental Health & Psychedelic Medicine Task Force “will not consider or take a position on the medicalization, decriminalization, or legalization of psychedelic medicines.”

“The purpose is for this task force,” she said, “to create a set of policy recommendations for the next legislature, the 34th, to consider in advance of the almost 99.9 percent certain medicalization of certain psychedelic medicines by the FDA so that we can be prepared when that happens.”

As part of her comments at Thursday’s hearing, Armstrong had prepared a presentation explaining the goals and mechanics of the task force, but she said the slides “didn’t make it in time” to the hearing.

A slide from a presentation given to the panel by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennie Armstrong

If it becomes law, the proposal would not itself change the legal status of any drugs. Rather, it would create a legislative task force that would spend the rest of 2024 studying how to license and regulate psychedelic therapy in Alaska. A report from the group with recommendations would be due on or before December 31, 2024.

Both MDMA and psilocybin have been granted breakthrough therapy status by FDA, and recent clinical trials have MDMA on pace for possible FDA approval later this year.

As part of invited testimony at Thursday’s hearing, Anchorage-based psychotherapist and military veteran Michael DeMolina expressed his “strong support” for the bill.

“What I can report to you is that the research really supports this methodology,” he said. “I’ve seen the videos now of those Phase 3 trials of our veterans receiving the therapeutic modality. And I’ve seen videos of women who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault receiving this therapy. And I’ve gained valuable insights into the transformative power of psychedelic assisted therapy.”

“I think it’s important to convene the task force on this because the day that the FDA, you know—might reschedule as soon as August, we don’t know what those guidelines are going to be,” he added. “And frankly, being in Alaska for 35 years, I’d sure like to think that we would be ahead of this curve instead of behind it.”

The task force report would include “what regulations or other changes are necessary in the state for Alaskans to safely benefit from these new treatment for mental health issues,” according to a statement Armstrong submitted to the panel before the hearing, “such as treatment-resistant depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder and other mental health issues common in Alaska.”

As Armstrong noted, Alaska has “the highest share of veterans per capita and one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.”

“Coupled with also being a state where 43.3 percent of women and 30.2 percent of men in Alaska experience domestic violence and related crimes in their lifetimes and where 84 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women experience violence,” she continued, “there is a potential for these medicines to have a profoundly positive impact on the mental health crises we see statewide.”

Armstrong testified that the task force is necessary because, while FDA approves dozens of novel drugs every year, “not all of them have the potential to make as outsized of an impact as this one does.”

She quoted an FDA official, Javier Muniz, who said, “Popular media is inundated with overwhelmingly positive references to these drugs…. The high degree of enthusiasm and anticipation is beyond anything we’ve ever seen with any unapproved psychiatric drug.”

“This type of medicine is very unique,” Armstrong said, “and requires us to look at that through the lens of a task force.”

A fiscal note from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development says the state would incur no cost from the change.

Earlier this month, members of a separate House panel adopted amendments to bring the bill into alignment with its Senate companion, SB 166, which has already passed out of one committee in that chamber and had another committee hearing in February. Among other changes, the amendments made the task force a legislative group rather than an executive one—designed to reduce the proposal’s fiscal note to zero—and added a member to the task force representing psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Also, rather than have the task force elect a chair itself, the latest version of the bill says that the members appointed by the president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives would by default serve as the group’s co-chairs.

Sponsors filed the legislation in both chambers in January.

Alaskans generally support reforms to policies around psychedelics, especially with regard to mental health. Just under half (49.4 percent) of those surveyed in a recent poll said they favor broadly removing criminal penalties around substances such as psilocybin mushrooms. When respondents were told that Alaska has particularly high rates of mental illnesses that could potentially be treated with psychedelics, however, support for the reform rose to 65 percent.

“It’s inspiring to see such a positive shift in how people view the use of these plant medicines,” said the Alaska Entheogenic Awareness Council (AKEAC), an advocacy group that published the new poll. “More people are recognizing the value of these substances in addressing certain mental health conditions.”

That’s true not only in Alaska but across the country. A growing number of states are pursuing psychedelics reform legislation this legislative session, with a focus on research and therapeutic access.

In Indiana, lawmakers recently sent a bill to the governor’s desk that includes provisions to fund clinical research trials into psilocybin with a focus on military veterans and first responders.

Meanwhile, the Maryland House of Delegates this week passed a bill to create a psychedelics task force responsible for studying possible regulatory frameworks for therapeutic access to substances such as psilocybin, mescaline and DMT. It would be charged specifically with ensuring “broad, equitable and affordable access to psychedelic substances” in the state.

An Arizona House panel also approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize psilocybin service centers where people could receive the psychedelic in a medically supervised setting.

Utah lawmakers last week unanimously approved a Republican-led bill to authorize a pilot program for hospitals to administer psilocybin and MDMA as an alternative treatment option, sending it to the governor.

Also last week, a Missouri House committee unanimously approved a bill to legalize the medical use of psilocybin by military veterans and fund studies exploring the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.

Connecticut lawmakers held a hearing on a bill to decriminalize possession of psilocybin last week.

Vermont legislative panel continued its consideration this month of a bill that would legalize psilocybin in the state and establish a work group on how to further regulate psychedelics for therapeutic use.

The governor of New Mexico recently endorsed a newly enacted resolution requesting that state officials research the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and explore the creation of a regulatory framework to provide access to the psychedelic.

An Illinois senator recently introduced a bill to legalize psilocybin and allow regulated access at service centers in the state where adults could use the psychedelic in a supervised setting—with plans to expand the program to include mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

Lawmakers in Hawaii are also continuing to advance a bill that would provide some legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval.

New York lawmakers also said that a bill to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in that state has a “real chance” of passing this year.

Bipartisan California lawmakers also recently introduced a bill to legalize psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could access psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

A Nevada joint legislative committee held a hearing with expert and public testimony on the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin in January. Law enforcement representatives also shared their concerns around legalization—but there was notable acknowledgement that some reforms should be enacted, including possible rescheduling.

The governor of Massachusetts recently promoted the testimony of activists who spoke in favor of her veterans-focused bill that would, in part, create a psychedelics work group to study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin.

Congressional Committee Will Take Up Medical Marijuana And Psychedelics Bills For Veterans At Hearing Next Week

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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