HI: Hawaii Lawmakers Seek Marijuana Exemption From DEA While Also Requesting Legal Psilocybin Plan

The legislation asks the state Health Department to seek an “exception to regulations” from DEA and to petition for a rulemaking process that would clarify that state-level legalization is not in violation of federal drug laws.

The Hawaii House on Wednesday adopted a resolution seeking an exemption from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Separately, the Senate approved two resolutions calling on state officials to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and create a plan that would provide equitable access to the fungi for adult patients.

For the cannabis measure, the legislation asks the state Health Department to seek an “exception to regulations” from DEA and to petition for a rulemaking process that would clarify that state-level legalization is not in violation of federal drug laws.

The unanimously approved resolution states that “federal law expressly prohibits the use of marijuana, despite the evidence of the benefits of using medical cannabis” and “this lack of clarity between state and federal marijuana laws has repercussions for medical cannabis patients and the State’s medical cannabis dispensaries.”

Further, “obtaining an exception from the federal Controlled Substances Act for the state-authorized use of medical cannabis would benefit the State’s residents who use medical cannabis and the State’s medical cannabis dispensaries.”

An identical concurrent resolution has also been transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

Last year, DEA rejected a petition to exempt Iowa from enforcement actions related to its medical cannabis program that was filed by an activist, but state officials are considering submitting an official request of their own.

In Hawaii, the separate psychedelics measures that unanimously cleared the Senate, which call for a working group on psilocybin, are nonbinding—but their passage is another example of how lawmakers are increasingly open to exploring reforms around psychedelics. Another bill to legalize psilocybin for medical purposes was introduced in January, but it stalled in committee.

The current legislation wouldn’t legalize the entheogen. Rather, it simply calls for a working group to be established in the Health Department and for members to study 1) the current laws governing psilocybin at the local, state and federal level, 2) the existing research related to the “safety and efficacy” of using the psychedelic for mental health treatment and 3) guidelines for medical professionals to “prescribe and provide psilocybin” to patients.

The working group “is requested to develop a long-term strategic plan to ensure the availability of medicinal psilocybin and psilocin or psilocybin-based and psilocin-based products that are safe, accessible, and affordable for adults twenty-one years of age or older,” the text of the resolution states.

The requested deadline for a report on the group’s initial findings would be 20 days before the start of the 2022 legislative session. The resolution requests a deadline for a final report with recommendations, “including any proposed legislation,” 20 days before the convening of the 2023 session.

In the “whereas” section, the resolution states that there are a variety of treatment options for mental health conditions, but some are not effective. Psilocybin has “shown efficacy, tolerability, and safety in the treatment” of conditions such as addiction and depression.

“Hawaii has a shortage of mental health professionals and should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its citizens,” it continues.

At a committee hearing on Monday, lawmakers advanced the legislation with amendments that make technical changes and remove certain members who would be part of the working group.

“This working group represents a very important step forward in making Hawaii a leader in this kind of research,” Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (DPFH), said in his testimony to the committee. “It promotes the health and wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable populations here.”

Leverenz told Marijuana Moment that “DPFH is glad that the Legislature has taken an important first step in establishing a statewide framework to explore the beneficial uses of the psilocybin and psilocin under medical supervision.”

“Those suffering from post-traumatic syndrome and depression deserve a range of options to facilitate their health and well-being,” he said. “The proposed working group should include robust participation from non-governmental actors, including patients and advocates, so that recommendations reflect the needs of the community.”

In other drug policy news in Hawaii, a Senate-approved bill to legalize marijuana died earlier this month when it failed to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline. Separate legislation to expand the state’s existing decriminalization threshold from three grams to 30 grams of cannabis also failed to advance in the House this session after winning approval of the Senate.

A bill similar to the committee-approved psilocybin resolution was introduced in the Texas House this month, and it’s currently awaiting committee action.

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