The governor of Massachusetts is promoting 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.
During a hearing before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs on Tuesday, psychedelics reform advocates urged members to pass the Honoring, Empowering, and Recognizing our Servicemembers and Veterans (HERO Act) that Gov. Maura Healey (D) introduced last month.
This comes as lawmakers are also being asked to consider a separate proposal to legalize substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca for adults. If legislators decline to enact that reform, activists will have a chance to collect additional signatures to place it on the state’s November ballot.
The psychedelics-related provisions of the governor’s veterans bill, meanwhile, are more limited in scope. The proposal wouldn’t immediately create a framework for legal access, but it would require the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS) to convene a working group to study “alternative therapies for mental health treatments for veterans” and exploring “whether psychedelic therapy is associated with improved outcomes among veterans with diagnosed mental health disorders.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Emily Oneschuk—a Navy veteran and campaign director for Massachusetts for Mental Health Options (MMHO) that is behind the psychedelics ballot push—testified about her own transformative experience with psilocybin-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The entire process helped me weave the disparate and difficult pieces of my life together in a way that I couldn’t access in traditional talk therapy and the effects of that retreat stay with me to this day,” she said. “I’ve seen this work for myself, for my peers and for countless others who ran out of options and I’m hoping to make it accessible to the people who need it most.”
Oneschuk’s testimony was one of several examples of psychedelics-centered comments referenced by the governor’s office in a press release Tuesday that broadly advocated for the enactment of her veterans bill.
Sam Chapman, executive director of the Healing Advocacy Fund, was also quoted in the governor’s release, saying that the HERO Act “supports the study of psychedelic medicine as a new tool for mental health care for those struggling with PTSD, including our veterans.”
“Massachusetts veterans answered the call to serve their state and country, and they deserve to have access to the care they need when they return home,” he said.
Winthrop Police Department Lt. Sarko Gergerian submitted testimony for the hearing criticizing “barriers in place at the federal and state level that have for too long prevented the creation of a scientific evidence base around psychedelic medicines.”
“This bill offers a good step in correcting the errors of the past—a move that will add to the scientific base related to these therapies,” he said.
The panel that would be created under the governor’s legislation would need to “evaluate literature, research trials and expert opinions to determine in psychedelic therapy is associated with improved outcomes regarding mental health treatment for veterans.” And it would be required to issue recommendations “regarding the provision of psychedelic therapy to treat veterans with mental health disorders in Massachusetts.”
The legislation limits the scope of psychedelics that should be studied to psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine.
The secretary of EOVS would need to appoint to the working group two members representing medical centers that serve veterans, two members representing health insurance companies, two members representing veterans service organizations, one member representing an organization that’s currently studying psychedelics therapy and any additional members seen fit to complete the research.
The working group would need to file a report with findings and recommendations with the clerks of the House and Senate and two joint legislative committees no later than January 1, 2025.
“The HERO Act represents a visionary commitment by our administration to redefine the landscape of veterans’ services for Massachusetts,” the governor said broadly of her legislation. “At its core, the bill ensures that veterans receive proper support by expanding benefits, modernizing services, and reaching more veterans and families.”
“Together, we can ensure that Massachusetts not only does right by our veterans, but leads the nation in providing the best veterans’ services,” she said.
—Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 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.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—
Rather than wait until 2025 for a working group to make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for a specific population, however, the measure from MMHO activists that’s now before the legislature would create a regulatory framework for lawful and supervised access to psychedelics at licensed facilities.
Earlier this month, Massachusetts officials certified that activists submitted enough valid signatures to force legislative consideration of the psychedelics legalization initiative.
The campaign first filed two different psychedelics reform initiatives in August, and after the state attorney general determined that they both met the constitutional requirement for ballot placement the following months, activists decided to pursue the version that included a home cultivation option.
The legislature will now have the choice to enact the reform, propose a substitute or decline to act. If lawmakers decide not to legalize psychedelics by May 1, activists would then have until July 3 to submit at least 12,429 additional valid signatures to put the proposal before voters on the November 2024 ballot.
Meanwhile, a local psychedelics reform group, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM), says it’s preparing to offer lawmakers a revised version of the initiative this spring. The group, which previously expressed support for the ballot measure version allowing home cultivation, is now proposing to strike language on creating a regulatory commission to oversee the program, and it also wants to give localities that authority to restrict psychedelics services in their areas.
Separately, in the Massachusetts legislature, a Republican lawmaker filed three psychedelics reform bills last year, including proposals to legalize substances like psilocybin and reschedule MDMA pending federal approval while setting a price cap on therapeutic access.
There are several other pieces of psychedelics legislation that have been introduced in Massachusetts for the session by other legislators, including separate measures to legalize certain entheogenic substances for adults.
Another bill would authorize the Department of Public Health to conduct a comprehensive study into the potential therapeutic effects of synthetic psychedelics like MDMA.
Rep. Mike Connolly (D) also filed a bill in 2021 that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing on studying the implications of legalizing entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
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