RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia House subcommittee agreed to wait until 2023 to consider a bill that would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for certain people.
Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) initially filed a measure to end the felony possession penalties for psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” and peyote for people 21 and older.
Adams, a nurse practitioner, narrowed the bill to make it only apply to adults “in treatment with a licensed or certified practitioner of the healing arts.” She told the House Courts subcommittee on Jan. 24 that discussions with researchers, advocates and veterans helped her understand the benefits of plant medicines.
“What I’ve been able to learn is that there is strong evidence to support plant medicines once thought dangerous that really are effective and safe treatments for things like PTSD, depression that’s unresponsive to other treatments, end-of-life fear and trauma, opioid addiction, suicidality and a host of other psychological ailments,” Adams said in front of the panel.
The legislation, which also included the substance ibogaine, would reduce the penalty from a Class 5 felony to a $100 civil penalty. Under the current law, possession of psilocybin or psilocin in Virginia is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a possible $2,500 fine.
The bill would not have allowed the substances to be manufactured, distributed or sold in Virginia. But lawmakers on the subcommittee opted to hold off on a formal vote on the measure, citing concerns over how the prescription process may work.
Adams said there was no language in the bill on what a medical provider would have to diagnose before a person could receive one of the substances. After hearing from advocates in support of the bill, many of whom spoke at a Senate committee meeting last week, the panel decided to carry over the bill until next year’s session.
“I understand what the bill is trying to do but there are a lot of questions raised,” Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), who made the motion to reconsider the bill next year. Herring, who carried the marijuana legalization bill in the House last year, said she was mainly concerned about the prescription element and felt it needed to be added to the legislation.
After acknowledging the number of bills that the subcommittee must consider during the session, which is slated to end in mid-March, the members of the subcommittee noted that there was little time for Adams to make changes for them to reconsider the bill.
With a voice vote, the subcommittee agreed to move the bill to the 2023 General Assembly session. But there is an effort to decriminalize these substances in the Virginia Senate. A bill from state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) that appeared to get bipartisan support when it was heard in committee is currently under review for potential changes.
Adams pointed out that these substances are considered Schedule 1 drugs, meaning the federal government considers them as having no medicinal value and as highly addictive. She disputed those assertions, saying there is evidence showing they do help those suffering from mental health issues and are not addictive.
“We’re facing a staggering mental health crisis,” Adams told the subcommittee. “In Virginia alone, 20 percent of our citizens are living with diagnoses of mental illness. And we’re also home to a variety of military installations and home to many, many veterans.”
While the Senate bill is still alive, lawmakers who heard Sen. Hashmi’s presentation last week said they were concerned the measure wouldn’t pass the Republican-controlled House of Delegates without changes.