Psychedelics appear to be on an accelerated path to legitimacy now that the legal beagles officially have a hand in what that legitimacy means.
Lawyers representing clients researching or investing in psychedelics don’t have the same concerns that they had when they first explored similar representations in cannabis. Questions about whether they are violating rules of professional conduct, putting their firm’s banking relationships in jeopardy, or courting suits from state bar regulators have largely been answered.
So now it’s time: Introducing the first-ever Psychedelic Bar Association (PBA), founded in 2020 by one of California’s most effective and respected cannabis business and regulatory attorneys, Nicole Howell, partner at Clark-Howell LLP in Santa Monica, California. She is also the co-executive director of PBA.
“After a lot of careful consideration and making sure that we have a board that we felt fairly represented a diversity of points and practice areas and life experiences, we decided that we wanted to do something that was a little more meaningful and a little different than a bar association that mostly focus on business development and networking,” Howell told Psychedealia.
One of the biggest differences between what they’re doing with the PBA and what lawyers are accustomed to, Howell said, is that they’re really inviting lawyers to think about how to integrate whatever sort of personal paths they’re on with their practice of law. “To think about evolving the practice of law together, and to think about some of the assumptions that we make and the ways that we have been trained to interact with each other and with clients. And to think about bringing some more of our humanity into our practice of law.”
Howell said that what they are doing with the PBA is studying the indigenous psychedelics traditions and focusing on the process of building the association. She is now putting together a group of founding members of the PBA and finding there is a lot of interest from other attorneys.
The mission of the Psychedelic Bar Association is to “bring together a diverse network of lawyers in the emerging psychedelic ecosystem, provide education, coalition-building, and community, with a focus on honing expertise in the psychedelic field. The PBA wants to empower members to help shape and steward the legal, political, and sacred contexts of psychedelics and all drugs toward justice, reciprocity, and equity.”
More law firms are beginning to open up divisions of their practices or assign specific attorneys to handle psychedelics cases. There is a handful in both the U.S. and the U.K. For example, the multi-national Los Angeles-based law firm Harris Bricken doesn’t list a specific psychedelics group, but has seven psychedelic attorneys on staff, noting that psychedelics are heading toward legalization.
One of the U.S. law firms that have made a big commitment to psychedelics is St. Louis-based Husch Blackwell, which recently announced its psychedelics and emerging therapies team, an interdisciplinary, cross-office group of lawyers helping psychedelics innovators who want to research, develop and commercialize novel therapies based on psychedelic drugs.
The team is led by Natasha Sumner, a healthcare regulatory and product and commercial litigation attorney; Kimberly Chew, a commercial litigation attorney and co-founder of the psychedelic group; and Karen Luong, a product liability and commercial litigation attorney and co-founder of the psychedelic group.
The establishment of the firm’s psychedelics team makes the law firm the first Am Law 100 firm to offer such a team. The Am Law 100 is an annual ranking of the highest-grossing law firms in the U.S.
“I think a lot of the more conservative colleagues might have thought is this real? Is that something that you’re really doing? And it immediately caused them to question the legality of a lot of it,” Luong told Psychedealia. “But the way we’ve marketed this internally to those in our firm was, look, we are really focused on the science and the clinical trials and the government-sanctioned research that’s going on. And that’s actually where a lot of our client work has come from.”
There is a lot of general business work like corporate formation, public benefit corporations, and tax issues as well for these psychedelic companies, she said. A lot of companies in the space are also nonprofits, and the law firm has an entire nonprofit group that that deals with those issues. Then there is the entire FDA and drug development side of it.
“What we are doing is trying to help the public benefit corporations and nonprofits that are pushing these substances that they developed through the clinical trials to be approved by the FDA,” Loung said.
The group is not focusing on advocacy issues right now, but Luong does have a personal stake in any PTSD treatment. “The fact that this psychedelic assisted therapy can potentially cure PTSD, well, I’m all over that. That’s so interesting to me.”
The group often navigates what the FDA is requesting, she said, referring to the MDMA assisted psychotherapy research that was granted Breakthrough Therapy back in 2017 and is going into final clinical trials now. “So it’s highly anticipated that by 2023, this (MDMA treatment) will be approved by the FDA. It’s already in the works,” she said. “So as issues come up with our clients, and as trials go through the FDA, we are here to assist.”
Capital financing and healthcare regulations are what the firm’s psychedelics practice is focusing on now, she said, because that’s where the field is right now. “It’s more in that area of developing the product and so forth, and corporate formation or restructuring.”
The trickle of business they have now will probably turn into a opened floodgate by 2023, Luong said, assuming that the FDA regulatory process proceeds on its path of reviewing more psychedelics that are working through their final clinical trials.