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Iowa lawmakers last week held a historic hearing on a bill to decriminalize 'magic mushrooms.”
It was the first such proceeding ever in Iowa, and one of the first anywhere in the world. Until now, the push to lift restrictions on psychedelic substances has mostly taken place through local government action and voter referendums, not in the stuffy halls of state capitols.
A panel of two Republicans and one Democrat failed to advance the legislation, but it nevertheless was an important development for drug policy in Iowa and the nation. It positions psychedelic drug reform as a legitimate public policy issue, even in a conservative state.
Psilocybin is naturally occurring in some mushrooms and is a potentially powerful treatment, including for post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and end-of-life distress. Some test subjects report significant long-term benefits after just one dose, often combined with talk therapy.
People with or without a diagnosable condition say the drug boosts creativity, empathy and openness. Some report mystical and spiritual experiences on their 'trips.”
Hallucinogenic substances have been used by humans for thousands of years medically, religiously and recreationally, maybe even predating recorded history. Last century, drugs such as psilocybin, LSD and mescaline became associated with the U.S. counterculture and were subject to federal prohibition in the 1960s and '70s, but there is a growing and diverse movement to lift restrictions the substances.
It turns out that psychedelic mushrooms are surprisingly popular among Iowans. Among more than 20 comments submitted online, each one was in support of the bill. The only people who spoke against the bill at the Statehouse were lawmakers and state government lobbyists.
A strange alliance coalesced through public comments offered to lawmakers - you had the usual libertarians and natural medicine folks, but also military veterans, recovering drug addicts, medical professionals and at least one prominent Christian conservative activist.
More than once at last week's hearing, proponents invoked Bible passages.
Chuck Hurley is a former Republican legislator and now vice president and lobbyist for the socially conservative organization The Family Leader, so he's not exactly a counterculture operative. He spoke on his own behalf at the hearing, saying he dealt with drug abuse decades ago and he's hopeful psilocybin therapy can help others.
Hurley quoted 1 Timothy 4:4 - 'For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
Shannon Myers is a rehabilitation counselor in Des Moines specializing in psychedelic integration. She said psilocybin is especially promising for people who are not well served by other treatment methods.
'I have seen transformative effects on individuals who would likely not benefit from therapy, who would not access therapy, who have gone to therapy,” Myers said.
The bill under consideration in Iowa would have removed psilocybin and psilocin, active substances in psychedelic mushrooms, from Iowa's list of controlled substances. Failure to clear a subcommittee last week means it's likely dead for the year.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, psilocybin is classified as Schedule I, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. But the federal drug schedule is often nonsensical - in reality, the substance has a low risk of abuse and its medical benefits are increasingly accepted.
All three lawmakers reviewing the bill - Republican Reps. Jarad Klein and Joel Fry and Democratic Rep. Wes Breckenridge - said they are open to the possibility of exploring psychedelic drug reform. However, each said they would not support such a measure until the federal government takes action to deregulate the drugs and offer medical guidance.
It is disappointing to see my fellow Republicans, supposedly warriors for limited government, show such deference to government bureaucrats and the medical-industrial complex. A more courageous conservative movement would be willing to defy our federal overseers in the name of freedom.
Iowans missed our chance to be on the leading edge of medical marijuana. That movement has been afoot for more than four decades and Iowa remains sorely behind the times.
Now we have an opportunity to be a leader on psychedelic drugs. We shouldn't let it pass us by again.
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