SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) –A new bill, announced in Utah, would legalize psilocybin for use by patients with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or who are in hospice care.

Right now, psilocybin is a controlled substance, meaning it is banned by federal and state law. Currently, having possession of psilocybin could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years or $5,000 in fines.

Senate Bill 200 sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City) would legalize psilocybin’s use for medicinal purposes under a regulated system, similar to legalized cannabis for medical use. It would also decriminalize psilocybin possession under certain circumstances.

“For us to wait for the federal government, to me, is irresponsible because people are needing help,” Escamilla said. “Especially our veterans, […] they need this extra help so they don’t get attached to opioids, which are very addictive and actually kill people.” 

Escamilla says her bill would establish a pilot program for drug use, and that patients would only have access to the drug while at a clinic under the supervision of a provider. The providers would have 80+ hours of training before being able to handle psilocybin. Only 5,000 patients will be allowed in the pilot program, and in five years it could expand.

Last year, the Legislature passed HB167, which created the mental illness psychotherapy drug task force to review psilocybin research and report on it. The report, issued by the task force, demonstrated this substance is safe and effective.

Other recent research has shown that psilocybin-assisted therapy in conjunction with psychotherapy can relieve major depressive disorder symptoms in adults for at least a year in some cases.

In a study by Johns Hopkins involving 27 patients, who had a long-term history of depression, participants showed a 75% response rate with 58% remission at 12 months of treatment and follow-up.

“Many Utahns currently use psilocybin illegally and are seeing profound improvement in their mental health,” Desiree Hennessy, executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition said. “This medicine should be legalized so these patients don’t jeopardize their legal rights in pursuit of health.”

Utah is one of the states where medical cannabis is legal. There are still 11 states where marijuana is illegal. The Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which was passed in 2018, allows patients with a healthcare provider’s verification, to purchase cannabis from medical cannabis pharmacies.

“We’ve learned how to do it once already, with medical cannabis, and we can apply that knowledge to another medicine that can help many Utahns in need,” Hennessy said.

According to a libertarian organization located in Lehi, Utahns should support SB 200.

“We can wait a decade or two […] for the federal government to catch up–and make patients suffer as criminals in the meantime,” Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute said. “Or we can thread the needle like we did with cannabis and create an opportunity for Utahns in need to get the relief they need without being threatened with jail time.”

If this bill passes, it will be one of the first bills to legalize the medical use of psilocybin. To track the legalization of psilocybin across the country, check out this Psychedelic Legalization & Decriminalization Tracker.