New Jersey: After Cannabis Legalization And Facing A Psilocybin Bill, Reluctance And Doubts Arise

The Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Act sent by Senate President Nicholas Scutari to the Health, Human Services & Senior Citizens Committee several weeks ago, would legalize psilocybin’s production and use for mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and end-of-life stress.  

As Charles Toutant reports in the New Jersey Law Journal, the extended process to establish an infrastructure to produce & regulate cannabis has provided many opportunities for attorneys to participate.

Now, some people call the current legislation vague, with respect to the procedure for obtaining medical approval for the use of psilocybin as well as other points. 

For instance, former Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina said New Jersey had “a very tight medical marijuana system," while he is not sure whether he sees the same rigor in terms of demonstrating a need for the drug in the psychedelic mushrooms bill. 

Coffina went on to explain his concerns over how the new legislation appears to be modeled on the medical marijuana law, yet the mechanism to qualify as a buyer and the role of the potential doctor supervising the treatment are unclear. He fears that the NJ psilocybin program could become like the early days after California legalized medical marijuana, with nearly anyone qualifying for a medical card.

When prosecutor Coffina said his office rarely summoned defendants for psilocybin possession, which like marijuana was usually viewed as a disorderly offense in municipal court. “Mushrooms are far less concerning than cocaine or heroin,” he said. 

On the other hand, the proposed act allows for home cultivation of psilocybin for individual use. On this point, Coffina manifested that growing mushrooms at home could lead to uncontrolled quality and potency while making it easier for children to access them. 

The former prosecutor expressed his concern over legalized psilocybin potentially being the first step toward harder drugs. “As someone who has been on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, I’m hesitant over any law that sends a message to people, particularly young people, that it’s OK to put chemicals in your body to feel better, to change how you’re doing.” He added: “To me, it inhibits independent coping skills, and once this amount of ingestion, whether it’s marijuana or mushrooms, isn’t working, I think we could see an escalation to other drugs.”

Another bill commenter is co-chair of the cannabis industry practice group at Brach Eichler. Charles Gormally said that if the psilocybin bill passes, its market will be a fraction of the size of the cannabis market. 

“If you think about it, the cannabis opportunity attracted accountants and lawyers because essentially you’re taking a multi-billion dollar business that used to be a felony and turning it into a business in New Jersey. You don’t have that size of market dealing with psychedelics or psilocybin products like mushrooms or LSD or anything like that. There is an interest in it,” Gormally explained.

He expressed opposition to the bill’s call to create an advisory board. “The one thing you don’t need is more agencies that regulate a single, limited market. I think it’s not a prudent way to approach opportunities like this.”

The director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, Micah Rasmussen, shared that while the measure towards legalizing recreational marijuana had wide public support, it is still unclear if the same will happen with magic mushrooms. 

In his opinion, the mushroom bill would know better to learn from the consensus-building process and development of a regulatory framework of recreational cannabis before the psychedelic got to the market.

The approval of recreational cannabis was largely premised on social justice, which Rasmussen doesn’t see in the present legislation proposal: “Unless I’m missing something, that is not likely to be an argument with regard to who is using mushrooms or who is being arrested for them, and why they shouldn’t be arrested."

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Posted In: CannabisNewsPsychedelicsLegalMarketsCharles GormallyMicah RasmussenNicholas ScutariScott CoffinaThe Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Act
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