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One of the creators of Oregon’s legal psychedelic mushroom program leaves advisory board

A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms is seen at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles on May 6, 2019. Tom Eckert announced Thursday that he is stepping down as chair of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board.  (Richard Vogel)
A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms is seen at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles on May 6, 2019. Tom Eckert announced Thursday that he is stepping down as chair of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board. (Richard Vogel)
By Lizzy Acker Oregonian

Tom Eckert is stepping down as chair of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board. Eckert, along with his late wife Sheri Eckert, worked for years to bring legal, regulated psilocybin to Oregon.

The couple sponsored the bill that became law in 2020, which created a regulatory framework for therapeutic psychedelic mushrooms.

The state released the first draft rules for that program in February.

But on Thursday, Eckert sent a letter to the advisory board and Oregon Health Authority officials announcing he would be resigning from his volunteer position on the board immediately.

“It is a day of satisfaction for me, knowing that I have helped carry out the bold policymaking mission that my late, great wife Sheri and I initiated some seven years ago,” Eckert wrote.

Eckert said he was grateful for being part of that work and thanked Angela Allbee, the section manager of the Oregon Psilocybin Services Program.

“As my life continues to change, with more relationships taking shape, I am mindful of appearances,” Eckert wrote. “I do not want anything to distract from the earnest work of this Advisory Board.”

In a statement, the Oregon Health Authority thanked Eckert for his service.

“Under Tom’s leadership as chair, the board has reached many important benchmarks,” the agency said in its statement.

“From organizing the advisory board into subcommittees, meeting the statutory requirement to publish the Scientific Literature Review, to making recommendations to Oregon Health Authority for rulemaking, the board has had a remarkable year,” they said. “We wish Tom the best in his future endeavors as we celebrate these important accomplishments.”

In a Feb. 28 email sent to Albee and other board members and obtained by public records request, advisory board member Dr. Rachel Knox addressed the question of Eckert’s relationship with Rachel Aiden, the CEO of Synthesis Institute, a Dutch company with U.S. subsidiaries that provides psychedelic retreats and trainings.

“I’ve recently learned that Tom disclosed his relationship with Synthesis’ CEO to OHA some time ago,” Knox wrote.

“I understand ‘personal conflicts’ aren’t boilerplate or commonplace,” she wrote, “but I think it’s pretty clear that the resounding call for declarations was indeed a call to address rumors that the chair of our board had a personal relationship with the highest ranking executive of a prominent organization preparing to become an Oregon enterprise within psilocybin services.”

“Generally speaking,” Albee wrote in her March 1 response to Knox, “it is our understanding that an OPAB or subcommittee member that may be in a relationship with someone who may have a financial interest in a future psilocybin business most likely would not fall under the definition of a potential conflict of interest or an actual conflict of interest under Oregon law.”

The advisory board, appointed by Gov. Kate Brown in March 2021, is a volunteer board made up of doctors, researchers, therapists, fungi experts and others with an interest in the state’s psilocybin framework.

A good number of board members and subcommittee members are involved in for-profit psilocybin businesses and projects.

Eckert, for example, plans to train psilocybin facilitators through his venture InnerTrek LLC. Another board member, Angela Carter, is involved with Alma Institute, a psychedelics training program.

Another board member, Mason Marks, is a senior fellow and project lead on the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Yet another board member, Stephanie Barss, is a psilocybin-assisted therapy certificate program adviser at Fluence, another psychedelics training program.

In February, board members voted to verbally disclose possible conflicts of interest at a meeting on March 23.

“I do have a personal relationship with Rachel, which I’m happy and open about,” Eckert said Friday.

In an email on March 4, Knox wrote again to Albee and others, “There are calls for Tom’s resignation – several of those calls coming from other board members and subcommittee members.”

Knox did not respond to a request for comment on who made those calls.

In his statement, Eckert wrote: “It feels like the right time to orient my energies to the next phase of the journey. I look forward to supporting the development of Oregon’s psilocybin infrastructure in new and different roles.”

Rulemaking Advisory Committees continue to work on finalizing rules for the program. More information about the program and how to comment on draft rules, visit oregon.gov/psilocybin.

The program is set to begin in January 2023.

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