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Bill would legalize psilocybin in Utah under strict controls

Posted at 5:09 PM, Jan 27, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would legalize psilocybin in Utah under strict controls is set to be unveiled in the state legislature.

Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, confirmed she was planning to run a bill to create a controlled program where psychedelics could be used to treat mental health issues.

"There's enough evidence it can help in very specific mental health conditions. We want to bring it in a controlled manner," Sen. Escamilla said Friday in an interview with FOX 13 News.

Sen. Escamilla's bill would allow psilocybin (known in slang terms as "magic mushrooms") to be used to treat PTSD, anxiety or depression. However, it would only be administered under the recommendation and observation of medical professionals.

"What I want to say first of all, is the psilocybin bill will not allow for it to be sold anywhere," she said. "This is not a program where people can go get the card and purchase. This will actually be in a controlled environment."

Sen. Escamilla said her bill would require qualifying patients to use it at a clinic, under observation. She has been coordinating the bill with Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and lawmakers in the House.

The highly controlled program is being supported by the Utah Patients Coalition, which helped push for the legalization of medical cannabis in the state.

"Utah will be the first in the nation to come up with a program like this," said Desiree Hennessy, the coalition's executive director.

The Utah Patients Coalition has been advocating for psilocybin to be allowed in the state to treat some mental health problems. Hennessy said to their surprise, they found lawmakers on Utah's Capitol Hill to be receptive.

"We are having a crisis right now and people are waiting for help right now. Our suicide rate is second in the nation. We don’t have a lot of time to wait," she said. "We decided to approach our lawmakers and see how they felt and to be honest? Lawmakers, in hearing we had an option, were onboard and even offered conditions they might like to investigate in the future if this is successful."

Last year, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, passed a bill to authorize a study on the use of medical grade-psychedelics. While the study found some benefits of them, it also seemed to pour water on the idea. But Sen. Escamilla said it gave lawmakers a framework to create a regulated program that can help patients.

A group called Utah Mushroom Therapy has also launched an online petition to try to persuade lawmakers to support legalizing psilocybin.

The Utah Medical Association said it would wait to see the language of the bill before taking an official position, but CEO Michelle McOmber said they had concerns.

"This is a psychoactive substance, right? That alters mood, cognitive perception and also causes you know hallucinogenic episodes as it were. We’re concerned we’re going around the FDA process," she said Friday.

McOmber said the FDA is working quickly on projects around psilocybin, but she thought the legislature might be moving too quickly.

"Maybe a pilot project would be the best way to start or something like that ,rather than just diving into it and saying 'We’re going to do this,'" she said.

Sen. Escamilla, one of the most powerful politicians in the legislature, said she believed it could be a positive thing for people.

"If people and their doctors get to the point where they want to try this instead of an opioid option that could have them become addicted... why not?" she said.