Washington committee guts psilocybin bill, HBO's Last Week Tonight takes on psychedelic patents, Oregon might sell psychedelic data
Washington Ways & Means Committee to hear comments on SB 5263 replacement, HBO's John Oliver digs into psychedelic patents, and an update on Oregon psychedelic surveillance
Correction 2/20/2023: The bill that replaced WA SB 5263 provides no funding for psilocybin research.
Washington Senate Committee Guts Psilocybin Bill
Last Tuesday, the Washington State Senate Labor & Commerce Committee approved a substitute bill for SB 5263, the Washington Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunity Act.
SB 5263 was modeled after Measure 109, the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, which voters approved in 2020 (psilocybin businesses licensed under Measure 109 will open in Oregon later this year). Sponsored by State Senator Jessie Salomon, the bill was supported by veterans, physicians, psychologists, and over twenty state lawmakers.
Given bipartisan support for SB 5263, and the fact that no legislators openly opposed the bill, its last-minute replacement shocked many supporters, who learned of it the night before.
I’ve previously written about five varieties of psychedelic law. The substitute bill effectively shifts SB 5263 from the supported adult use category to the policy analysis category, which is the most conservative approach possible.
Like Measure 109, SB 5263 would have created a licensing framework for psilocybin manufactures, testing labs, service centers, and facilitators. I was fortunate to help draft sections of the bill, which included enhancements to template created by Oregon’s Measure 109. For instance, SB 5263 would have created a path for people with impaired mobility to access psilocybin services at home, for instance, at the end of life. For years, Washington physicians have fought for this kind of access for patients with cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
The replacement bill would not create access to psilocybin for most people with cancer, depression, substance use, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, it creates an advisory board and inter-agency task force to study the feasibility of regulating psilocybin. It also allocates funds to existing psilocybin research at the University of Washington, which focuses on veterans and first responders. Though clearly a worthy cause, the sudden shift was not what advocates expected [Correction 2/20/2023: The replacement bill does not allocate funding to psilocybin research. However, legislators have informally discussed this possibility].
Members of the Psychedelic Medicine Alliance of Washington had worked alongside Senator Jessie Salomon for a year to educate lawmakers and the public on SB 5263. An earlier version, SB 5660, was presented to state legislator last January but failed to move out of the Health & Long Term Care Committee. Instead, lawmakers approved a proposal to create the Washington Psilocybin Workgroup within the state Health Authority.
Governor Jay Inslee signed off on the workgroup, which was funded with $200,000 in public funds and asked to study Oregon’s rollout of Measure 109 and recommend improvements to Washington’s version. Last month, the workgroup published its preliminary recommendations, which endorsed the creation of a regulated psilocybin program modeled after Oregon’s. Despite the workgroup’s advice, members of the Labor & Commerce Committee jettisoned the supported adult use provisions of SB 5263.
If SB 5263 had been enacted, it would have been the first supported adult use bill passed by a state legislature. For this reason, proponents faced an uphill battle. To date, supported adult use of psychedelics has only been approved by voters through ballot initiatives in Oregon and Colorado.
The substitute bill would achieve what other states have already done. For instance, Utah created a task force to study the feasibility of future regulation of psilocybin therapy.
Advocates say it’s not too late to turn things around. Tomorrow, the Washington Senate Ways & Means committee hears testimony on the replacement bill for SB 5263. On Sunday evening, the Psychedelic Alliance of Washington urged people to contact Governor Inlsee and sign up to provide testimony at Tuesday’s hearing.
“We don't want yet another workgroup or taskforce,” said the group in its call to action. “We want access to Psilocybin Services for all people . . . There is already plenty of institutional and corporate research for psilocybin proving its safety and showing its promise, we don’t need more research - we need access!”
In a text message to Psychedelic Week, PMAW co-chair and WA Psilocybin Workgroup member Kody Zalewski expressed doubts the legislature would follow the recommendations of a psilocybin advisory board or task force created by the replacement bill. “They didn't care for the results of the initial taskforce, why will they listen to the proposed new interagency taskforce?” asked Zalewski. He urged people to contact Governor Inslee’s office and encourage him to support SB 5263 as originally proposed.
“Access to psychedelic services will heal people,” said Zalewski. “[A]nother taskforce won't.”
HBO’s Last Week Tonight Takes on Psychedelic Patents
Comedian John Oliver is known for his humorous take on serious news. Last night, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight put psychedelics in the spotlight. The full segment can be viewed for free on YouTube.
Oliver surveys the history of psychedelics in the United States. He features historical footage of U.S. Army experiments with LSD and reports on its early use in treating alcohol addiction. Oliver describes the exploits of American banker R. Gordon Wasson, who took mushrooms from Oaxacan Curandera Maria Sabina and put them in the pages of Time Magazine.
Wasson’s actions brought an influx of visitors to Sabina’s hometown of Huatla De Jimenez, earning her the resentment of her neighbors. Consequently, “you can add magic mushrooms to the list of things completely ruined by finance bros,” says Oliver.
The show describes misinformation spread about psychedelics in the 1960s and 70s, including a made-up claim in the New York Times reporting that college students stared at the sun so long they went blind. It also explains how Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act placed psychedelics in the most heavily restricted category, “essentially stopping medical research dead in its tracks.”
Oliver cautions viewers against repeating past mistakes involving psychedelics as well as making new ones. Among them, he counts allowing psychedelics to be monopolized through abuses of the patent system. In this context, Oliver references my article on psychedelic patents with co-author I. Glenn Cohen, which was published in the Harvard Law Review Forum.
According to Oliver, the patent strategy of Compass Pathfinder Limited “seems pretty aggressive for a drug that has been around for thousands of years.” Compass famously patented formulations of psilocybin that critics claim lack novelty and non-obviousness, two requirements to receive a U.S. patent. Oliver played an interview with former CEO George Goldsmith from Julia Lindau’s 2022 Vice News documentary on psychedelic capitalism.
This story on Last Week Tonight contributed to a growing trend where mainstream media provides in-depth coverage of psychedelics. In another recent example, Dr. Roland Griffiths appeared on the Megyn Kelly show. These detailed discussions are a welcome change from more superficial coverage, which has become common in recent years.
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Oregon Businesses Might Sell Psychedelic Mental Health Data
For several months, I’ve covered growing efforts to collect sensitive data from people receiving psychedelics in Oregon and Colorado. During the implementation of Oregon’s Measure 109, lobbyists and researchers at Oregon Health Science University (OHSU) conspired to mandate data collection from clients in the state’s emerging psilocybin industry.
At first, the Oregon Health Authority ostensibly succumbed to their influence. In draft rules for the psilocybin industry, the agency required clients to give up their data privacy rights. This move ignored input from Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board and arguably violated client confidentiality provisions of Measure 109, the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act. It also produced significant public backlash. In response, the Health Authority removed mandatory data collection from its final rules for the program.
Not easily deterred, lobbyists from the Healing Advocacy Fund gained the support of state Senator Elizabeth Steiner. Together, they promoted Senate Bill 303, which would force psilocybin service centers to hand over sensitive data on their clients to the Health Authority and OHSU.
Like the Health Authority’s draft rules, Senate Bill 303 generated significant public criticism. The proposed legislation was covered by Lucid News, Psychedelics Today, On Drugs, and The Trip Report. Through social media, reporters, lawyers, and activists expressed concern the bill would endanger clients and increase the burdens placed on psilocybin businesses.
The Oregon Health Authority’s recently published data disclosure form highlights some of these risks. Under final agency rules, clients must receive this form if service centers plan to share their deidentified data with third parties. The rules require the form to name who will receive client data and for what purposes. However, the form includes non-specific examples such as advertisers and researchers. It seems doubtful that such vague descriptions meet the rules’ requirement of informing clients where their data will go and how it will be used. Further, the inclusion of “advertisers” raises additional concerns.
Recent media reports describe how websites and smartphone apps are selling sensitive mental health data to advertisers. The Federal Trade Commission fined GoodRx $1.5 million for selling patient health data to advertisers. Gizmodo reported that data brokers are selling lists of people with mental health conditions to advertisers for as little as twenty cents. Yesterday, PBS reported on the sale of sensitive user data by mental health apps.
These practices are coming to emerging psychedelic industries, where lobbyists push for aggressive data collection from individuals in vulnerable psychedelic states.
Fortunately, rumor has it that Senator Steiner and the Healing Advocacy Fund are amending SB 303 to remove mandatory data collection. If these rumors are accurate, their revised bill would allow psilocybin clients to opt-out of data collection, which is currently the case under existing Health Authority rules.
Psychedelic Week will continue to follow these developments closely.
*The views expressed on Psychedelic Week do not represent the views of POPLAR at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School or the Florida State University College of Law. Psychedelic Week is an independent project unaffiliated with these programs and institutions.
Mason Marks, MD, JD is the Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor at the Florida State University College of Law. He is the senior fellow and project lead of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School and an affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Marks teaches drug law, psychedelic law, constitutional law, and administrative law. Before moving to Florida, he served on the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board where he chaired its Licensing Subcommittee. Marks has drafted drug policies for state and local lawmakers. His forthcoming book on psychedelic law and politics will be published by Yale University Press. He tweets at @MasonMarksMD and @PsychedelicWeek.