Alaska Senate Panel Advances Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Task Force Proposal After Adopting Changes To Align With House Bill

Alaska Senate Panel Advances Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Task Force Proposal After Adopting Changes To Align With House Bill

An Alaska Senate committee on Friday advanced a bill that would create a task force to study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy in anticipation of eventual federal legalization of substances like MDMA and psilocybin.

Before taking action on the bill, which the panel first considered earlier this month, members of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee adopted a substitute from its sponsor, Sen. Forrest Dunbar (D). The committee then moved the amended bill out of committee “with individual recommendations” and a new fiscal note that reduced the estimated cost of the task force to zero.

The changes bring the Senate bill, SB 166, into closer alignment with its companion bill in the House, HB 228, which also saw changes in committee last week.

Despite the changes, Dunbar said at Friday’s Senate committee hearing, “the overriding purpose of the task force is still the same: We are preparing Alaska—hopefully preparing—for what we see as the very likely legalization, in the medical context, of certain of these substances.”

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

“To make clear, this bill does not legalize anything. It does not advocate for legalizing anything,” Dunbar said. Rather, the task force would be charged with proposing a regulatory and licensing framework “in anticipation” of federal approval and rescheduling.

Some changes in the latest substitute amend the bill’s statement of intent to better reflect that framing. Others modify the makeup of the task force, removing an earlier requirement that an ethnoherbalist be on the panel and adding a seat for a representative of advanced practice nurses, who would likely be involved in at least some psychedelic-assisted therapy. The latest version also changes the duration of the task force to correct what Dunbar said was initially a drafting error. It would now dissolve in January 2025 rather than at the end of the next legislature.

The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Jennie Armstrong (D), has offered similar changes to that measure.

To reduce the proposal’s fiscal note to zero—likely to win broader support in the legislature—the Senate substitute also makes the task force a legislative rather than administrative one, and it erases earlier provisions for travel expenses and a per diem for task force members. Further, it removes a requirement that members appear before the legislature, though Dunbar said he hopes some members of the volunteer panel still choose to do so.

Sponsors filed the legislation in both legislative chambers last month.

Armstrong, the House sponsor, told colleagues last week that despite the measure’s subject matter potentially sounding “quite provocative, I think you’ll find this is actually a pretty staid bill.”

“What we’re proposing here is basically the most conservative thing,” she said, noting that pointing out that some other states, such as Oregon and Colorado, that have already legalized therapeutic psychedelic use at the state level and begun undertaking licensing.

Under the Alaska bill, by contrast, “the policy recommendations that would be brought forth [from the task force] would only be enacted if and when FDA approves these medicines for prescription,” Armstrong said.

Other states recently advanced psychedelics research bills during their ongoing legislative sessions, including New Mexico and Indiana.

Meanwhile at the federal level, FDA is actively considering a new drug application for MDMA as a possible treatment option for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As the agency weighs the application, new standards from the American Medical Association (AMA) have officially taken effect that assign psychedelics-specific codes to collect data on the novel therapies.

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In another milestone, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently issued a request for applications to conduct in-depth research on the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD and depression.

In California, meanwhile, a Republican lawmaker filed legislation last month month to create a state workgroup that would be tasked with exploring a regulatory framework to provide therapeutic access to psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine and eventually allow health professionals to administer certain psychedelics to military combat veterans.

Massachusetts officials have separately certified that activists submitted enough valid signatures to force legislative consideration of a psychedelics legalization initiative before the measure potentially heads to the state’s 2024 ballot.

Nevada psychedelics activists said late last year that they had a “productive meeting” with the Republican governor’s office about the need to expeditiously form a task force under a law enacted last year in order to inform future reform—including the possible legalization of plant-based medicines.

Also, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) earlier this year confirmed that the spores of psychedelic mushrooms are federally legal prior to germination because they do not contain the controlled substances psilocybin or psilocin.

Hawaii Panel Advances Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill That Would Protect Patients From Penalties

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