Oregon’s Psilocybin Legalization Experiment Begins in Earnest

Oregon made history as the first state to legalize psilocybin for anyone over 21 to use in a therapeutic setting with the passing of Ballot Measure 109 on November 3, 2020

The Oregon Psilocybin Services Section, a new section within the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Public Health Division Center for Health Protection, will implement Measure 109 and directs the OHA to license and regulate the manufacturing, transportation, delivery, sale, and purchase of psilocybin products and the provision of psilocybin services over a two-year development period, from January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2022.

There’s plenty of time to hash out rules—most are slated to be worked on in May with final rules by the end of the year. And there’s more work to be done about licensing testing labs by early 2023. 

But since the legalization approval by voters, there has been much discussion about what the psilocybin buy-and-use facility looks like; exactly who should be the certified psilocybin services facilitator monitoring the “client” during their session; and how and what a follow-up or integration process should be. 

What seems to be most concerning is the facilitator part of the legalization equation. Anybody can be a facilitator if they have a high school diploma, or its equivalent, without additional degrees or certifications (OHA plans to revisit these qualifications in May). Dr. Saul Levin, chief executive officer and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, in opposing Measure 109, spelled out the medical community’s issues with facilitators in a letter. “Such treatment should be evidence-based and determined solely by professional standards of care,” Levin wrote.

Though the facilitator will have to go through a training program, a medical license is not required. “We don’t know yet how this is going to work,” psychologist Elizabeth Nielson, co-founder and lead trainer at New York-based Fluence, told Psychedealia. Fluence offers continuing education and certificate programs in psychedelic integration and psychedelic-assisted therapy. “The entire legislation and project, and creating this new (facilitator) credential, is a bit of an experiment. I know that it’s really groundbreaking. It’s really new. It’s really well-intentioned, and it’s got the potential to bring enormous benefit to people. We all have to kind of wait and see how things play out.”

Joshua White, founder, and executive director of the Fireside Project, a psychedelic peer support service, told Psychedealia that he agrees Oregon is an interesting experiment. “I do know that the law requires psilocybin facilitators to obtain a license from the state, and the courses that they have to take in order to get those licenses are pretty regulated in terms of what the courses have to cover, and the duration,” he said. “What I also think is noteworthy and commendable is that Measure 109 is really facilitated psilocybin outside of a clinical medical model. So you could have an agency in Oregon have a guided psilocybin experience for spiritual development for religious reasons. I think it is really important that people be empowered with the choice to have these healing and developmental and transformational experiences without a diagnosis.”

Whatever happens in Oregon, other states are lining up right behind them to legalize psilocybin.

Denver, Colorado became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin in May 2019, followed by Oakland, California (in June 2019) and Santa Cruz, California (in January 2020). 

Washington, D.C. decriminalized psilocybin in November 2020, followed by four other cities, including Seattle, in October 2021.

 Colorado is the next state likely to legalize psilocybin. A national political action committee based in Washington, D.C., New Approach Political Action Committee, which supported both Oregon’s Measure 109 and D.C.’s Initiative 81 decriminalization measures (plus Oregon’s cannabis legalization measure in 2014) has submitted four initiatives to the state.

While psilocybin legalization still has a bumpy road ahead of it, perhaps the first-ever psilocybin legalization effort in Oregon can take cues from the first-ever rollout of legalized cannabis in Colorado—the largely successful so-called Colorado Model—as discussed by John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings Institution: “Because legalization is experimental, the state should be committed to understanding what effects—positive and negative—are associated with the policy change. Effective implementation should not mask the need for high-quality, robust, systematic policy analysis, which is as important to good government as the implementation itself,” Hudak wrote in July 2014, nearly two years after voters legalized cannabis in the state. “Still, a strong launch, built on a capable and flexible administrative infrastructure, gives Colorado a leg up as events unfold. If the state can maintain the flexibility, administrative competence, inclusiveness, coordination, and sense of mission that have marked legalization’s rollout, it will be well-positioned to continue its success for some time.”

Sidebar

Oregon’s Ballot Measure 109 and timeline

– November 3, 2020. Voters pass Ballot Measure 109, which legalizes psilocybin for anyone over 21 to purchase and use in a therapeutic setting.

– January 1, 2021. The development phase for Measure 109 begins.

– March, 2021. Oregon Psilocybin Services Advisory Board, appointed by Governor Kate Brown, meets for the first time.

– June, 2021, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) brings on Angela Allbee to manage the newly-created Oregon Psilocybin Services (OPS) Section.

– January 7-February 6, 2022. The OPS Section conducted a community interest survey designed to better understand who may be interested in accessing psilocybin services, service center licensure, facilitator licensure, manufacturer licensure, testing lab licensure, and/or training program approval.

– February, 2022. The Rules Advisory Committees reviewed draft rules for psilocybin products and testing. Community members will be invited to provide comments on the proposed rules during the public comment period scheduled from April 1-April 22, 2022. 

– May 2022. OHA expects to adopt rules about the testing of psilocybin products, and which product forms of psilocybin will be permitted. More testing rules may come later in 2022 as well as rules about dosing, and other rules about the requirements of facilitator trainers.

– June 30, 2022. Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board will submit findings and recommendations.

– Summer, 2022. A second public listening session is scheduled (the first was in December, 2021). Members of the public are encouraged to attend and share their feedback on the development of the work to build the structure for Measure 109.

– December 31, 2022. All rules for Measure 109 are expected to be adopted.

– January 2, 2023. The OHA will begin accepting applications for psilocybin laboratory testing licenses.

Sources: Ballotpedia https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_Measure_109,_Psilocybin_Mushroom_Services_Program_Initiative_(2020); Oregon Psilocybin Services Overview https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PREVENTIONWELLNESS/Pages/Oregon-Psilocybin-Services.aspx; Listening session December, 2021 https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PREVENTIONWELLNESS/Documents/M109-Summary-2021-Dec.pdf; Oregon Measure 109 http://oregonvotes.org/irr/2020/034text.pdf; and https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PREVENTIONWELLNESS/Pages/Psilocybin-License-Lab-Testing.aspx

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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