Sen. Ron Kouchi introduced Senate Bill 1454 on Jan. 25, which was unanimously passed in the Hawaii Senate Committee on Health and Human Services (HHS) on Feb. 6. If the bill becomes law, it would establish a “therapeutic psilocybin working group” (managed by the Office of Wellness & Resilience [OWR]) to “Examine the medicinal and therapeutic effects of psilocybin or psilocybin-based products vis-à-vis mental health including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and end-of-life psychological distress.”

The group would also be tasked with evaluating how markets such as regulators in Oregon and Colorado are tackling their own state psilocybin programs, with the goal of developing a comprehensive approach for Hawaii. In effect, the place would ensure that psilocybin access is safe, accessible, and affordable for patients.

During the hearing on Feb. 6, numerous testimonies were presented in favor of passing the bill to allow psilocybin access. The HHS compiled these testimonies on a 117-page document, which included a variety of speakers, beginning with a statement from Tia Roberts Hartsock, Executive Director of the OWR with the Office of the Governor. “As negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to show up in our daily lives, promising interventions for mental health disorders should be included in conversations relating to trauma,” Hartsock wrote. “To make informed decisions on how we should address and resource attention on complex social issues like mental health disorders, research needs to be examined. The OWR supports the purpose of SB1454 to establish a working group to provide recommendations on their findings on the potential benefits of the therapeutic use of psilocybin.”

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii Board President, Nikos Leverenz, also expressed support for the bill. “Hawai῾i should endeavor to work more proactively in creating a climate that is conducive to allowing qualified medical professionals to use psilocybin as a therapeutic tool for those who could benefit from its supervised use,” Leverenz said.

Patients who had personal experiences with plant medicine treatments also shared how the bill could help countless others. “l can attest without hesitation that plant medicines are both safe and effective means by which to address and recover from intense psychological and physical trauma,” said Wyly Gray, Executive Director of Veterans of War. “Veterans of War sees firsthand the healing potential of these ancient medicines day in and day out, and we advocate strongly for their decriminalization on behalf of a nation of veterans suffering from the after-effects of war, as a group, we deserve a safe and effective path towards recovery; as a group, we simply want to come home. This is bigger than the failed War on Drugs; lives are lost every day.”

This year has been productive for Hawaii legislators looking into plant medicine and legalization. On Jan. 11, Rep. Jeanné Kapela spoke about introducing an adult-use cannabis bill. “We all know, and Hawaii’s people know, that it is high time to legalize recreational cannabis use for adults in Hawaii. This year we stand on the precipice of history,” Kapela stated. “Following the recommendations of a task force devoted to addressing cannabis policy, we now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands.” Kapela has not yet introduced her bill, but she explained that it would include a mass expungement program. “Social equity. People. That is what forms the heart of our proposal,” she explained.

The people of Hawaii also recently showed support for cannabis legalization through a poll conducted by the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association. The survey revealed that 52% of Hawaii residents are in favor of legalization (with 31% saying they are opposed).

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