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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Legislature hears proposal to legalize psychedelic mushrooms

A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles on May 6, 2019. Washington lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize psilocybin for medical use.  (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)
By Albert James | The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Anyone 21 and older in the state of Washington could gain access to psychedelic mushrooms in 2024 if a proposal being heard in the Legislature passes this session.

“Psychedelic mushrooms” is a category of more than 200 species of mushrooms that contains the chemical compound psilocybin. The ingestion of psilocybin “may produce changes in perception, mood, and cognitive processes common to other psychedelic drugs,” according to a nonpartisan bill analysis. It is currently illegal under federal and state law to produce, possess and deliver psychedelic mushrooms.

A Senate bill would direct the Department of Health to create a system allowing for anyone 21 or older to take mushrooms at a state-licensed center under the direct supervision of licensed facilitators. Individuals medically unable to travel to a center may be able to take mushrooms at home.

Prime sponsor Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, said he became interested in mushrooms after the Legislature dealt with the effects of the Blake v. State drug possession ruling. Psilocybin is grouped with heroin and meth as some of the most dangerous drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But Salomon said mushrooms and their history as a medicinal product are different from heroin and meth.

Heroin and cocaine are rightly considered to be dangerous, but he doesn’t think mushrooms belong in that category, Salomon said.

“I do not believe it belongs because it’s not addictive and generally not dangerous when there’s a set and setting,” Salomon said.

Individuals looking for psychedelic mushroom services would not need a medical diagnosis or referral to access services. Clients would be required to go through a counseling session before treatment and may go to another session after. An advisory board would work with the Department of Health over the next two years to develop rules and regulations relating to the licensing of mushroom centers, providers and manufacturers. The department also would be responsible for establishing other regulatory guidance.

Under the bill, cities and counties could adopt their own rules regulating the operation and location of mushroom centers within some limits. Employers may not take action against employees who use mushroom services unless they are visibly impaired at work. Medical providers who recommend mushroom services to their patients would not face any punishments.

This bill would create a scenario similar to cannabis where mushrooms would be legal at the state level to an extent greater than they are at the federal level. However, use of mushrooms would only be legal within the DOH system created by the proposal – individuals possessing or using mushrooms outside of the regulated system would still face penalties.

Linda Thompson, executive director of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, said the state should be cautious when providing access to mushrooms.

“We need to be very careful about providing access to different drugs,” Thompson told The Spokesman-Review. “We need to be careful that we have the research done and that we have enough resources to implement it as it is shown to be effective.”

Thompson said she wants to see more details on what the rules and qualifications for facilitators will be. She said she’s concerned the mushroom policy will be put into place before standards are set.

Mason Lord, chair of Decriminalize Spokane, led an effort last year to have the city decriminalize mushroom possession and sale. Lord said governments have been more receptive to providing psilocybin access because of the benefit it can have on people who suffer from PTSD or other mental ailments.

“It’s been very apparent the benefits and the low risk of using psilocybin,” Lord said. “I just think that they are aware that it’s a low-risk situation to open up availability of psilocybin especially for people who are really suffering.”

While their local effort stalled due to a procedural hurdle, Lord is supporting ADAPT, a political action committee supporting a statewide ballot initiative on psilocybin treatment that expands on the Senate proposal.

Denver in 2019 became the first U.S. city to decriminalize possession of psilocybin mushrooms and since then cities such as Oakland and Santa Cruz, in California, and Washington, D.C., have followed suit. In 2020, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure to both decriminalize mushrooms and make them legal in therapeutic uses.

At a Senate Health and Long Term Care hearing on Wednesday, members of the public largely supported the bill.

Nathan Sackett, a University of Washington researcher specializing in the use of psychedelics in treating psychiatric disorders, told the committee evidence shows mushroom treatments can help individuals with depression, anxiety and addiction.

“I’ve worked with numerous patients who have used psilocybin,” Sackett said. “I have seen the positive effects first hand.”

Darren McCrea, member of the Colville tribe, told the panel his Parkinsons-induced tremors are so severe that only an invasive deep brain stimulation can provide him relief. But after trying mushrooms in 2014, he said he has seen significant improvements.

“Now, when I’m eating these,” he said. “I don’t have any tremors at all.”

Some testifiers said the proposal doesn’t go far enough. Bailey Kotas, of Bellingham, supports the Senate bill, but said personal use and possession of mushrooms should be decriminalized.

“If personal use and decriminalization of possession are addressed, this bill would positively affect a significantly larger volume of Washington residents,” Kotas said.

Senate minority leader John Braun, R-Centralia, dismissed the proposal as something that does not align with his caucus’ priorities.

“We’re focused on public safety, on affordability and building trust,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We have a lot more important issues to worry about for the people of the state of Washington.”

Senate majority leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he’s gotten feedback from the public on the proposal, but is unsure what his caucus will do with it.

“I have had a lot of constituents contact with support for that bill, so I know that it’s something that people in Washington state care about,” he said at a news conference on Monday. “But whether we have the votes to pass it, or if we can amend it, I can’t tell you for sure.”

The bill is awaiting action in committee. If passed, it could make its way to the full Senate for consideration.