Alaska House Approves Bill To Establish Task Force To Investigate Psychedelic Therapy

On May 2, the Alaska House of Representatives recently approved House Bill 228 in a 36-4 vote, which would establish a task force to regulate various psychedelic-assisted therapies. The official name of the group will be Alaska Task Force for the Regulation of Psychedelic Medicines Approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Passing HB-228, according to Rep. Jenny Armstrong who sponsored the bill, is an attempt to get ahead of possible future substance rescheduling and/or federal approval. “This August, it is widely anticipated that FDA will approve the most significant medicine for the treatment of mental health in decades,” Armstrong said prior to the House floor vote. She added that FDA approval of psilocybin as a medical treatment could be coming in the next one to two years. “House Bill 228 before us today would create a task force that would put forth recommendations for the next legislature to consider as it relates to this treatment. Whether you are excited about the idea of psychedelics getting approved, you’re neutral or you’re flat-out against it, I think we can all agree that if it is coming, we should be prepared and be thoughtful in how we approach it.”

Armstrong also noted that Alaska not only has the most veterans per capita, but is also ranked among the highest in violence rates throughout the U.S. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation data spanning 2012-2022, murder and aggravated assault were among the top crimes reported in Alaska. While the total crime rate in 2021 and 2022 was reduced compared to numbers from 2018, murder incidents increased in 2019 and 2022.

If passed, HB-228 would require that a task force be established, and for the group to spend one year reviewing the pros and cons of psychedelic-assisted therapies such as psilocybin and MDMA.

Most House representatives were receptive to moving the bill forward to assist those who have mental health conditions. Rep. Laddie Shaw spoke up and explained that she was formerly the director of Alaskan Veteran Affairs, and veterans are asking for some kind of positive move forward. “This task force gives us an opportunity to move forward with some productivity on behalf of our veterans,” Shaw explained. “We haven’t done anything for the last 50 years. Let’s move forward with something.”

Rep. Sarah Vance also supported the bill, stating that even though she’s uncomfortable with the topic, she still sees the value in exploring psychedelic-assisted therapies as an option.

Other representatives, such as Rep. Dan Saddler, opposed the idea that there is any benefit to psychedelic drugs. “I rise against this bill because I don’t believe we should be going off in a direction in what I believe to be a premature fashion,” Saddler said. He added that a task force would encroach “on the purview of the legislature.”

Rep. Jamie Allard claimed that military veterans were being harmed by those attempting to promote psychedelic therapy agendas. “Using our military veterans as experiments? We aren’t experiments,” said Allard. “We are human beings who deserve to have things done in the proper manner, and slowly and concisely.”

Rep. David Eastman compared the approval of psychedelic medicine to the once normal acceptance of lobotomies. “I look at the history of medicine in this country, and it was not that long ago that we were told—and our entire government, you know, echoed—that lobotomies were a good thing, and they were carried out in our country,” said Eastman. “I hope that we will not look back some number of years now and see that hallucinogens were also a mistake.”

HB-228 received amendments one day before the House floor vote. On May 1, one of these changes included adding a board of directors member from the Alaska Pharmacy Association to the task force. Other changes include extending the due date of the task force report from December 31, 2024 to January 31, 2025. The task force was originally set to end at the beginning of the legislative session, but changes altered this timeline so that it would conclude at the end of the session instead. Another amendment required that any task force members from the Alaska State Medical Association must be physicians. “These are all items that we were looking to clean up with the other body if they weren’t tackled today and so I fully support them.” commented Armstrong.

The next move is for HB-228 to be presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 6.

Senate Bill 166 is a companion bill to HB-228, introduced in January by sponsor Sen. Forrest Dunbar. At a Senate Labor & Commerce committee hearing in February, Dunbar explained the purposes of the bill: “…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,” Dunbar said

Alaska legalized medical cannabis through a voter initiative in 1998, and adult-use cannabis was later passed through a voter initiative in February 2015.

The post Alaska House Approves Bill To Establish Task Force To Investigate Psychedelic Therapy first appeared on High Times.


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