In April of this year, Florida’s first attempt at psychedelics reform failed, as a House subcommittee rejected HB 549. This bill, introduced by Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami Beach), would have legalized the use of psilocybin for mental treatment in the nation’s third most populous state.
Despite this setback, 2021 could yet be a pivotal year for psychedelics in Florida. In September, Grieco filed a new bill, HB 193, with companion SB 348 filed in the Senate by Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Plantation). These bills call would require the Department of Health, together with the Board of Medicine, to study the therapeutic efficacy of MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and migraines.
Republicans hold ample majorities in both chambers of the Florida legislature, meaning passage of any legislation will require significant from within their ranks. Given the fate of the earlier psilocybin bill, it is fair to ask what is different this time around. The answer, in a nutshell, is that the new bill is more Texas, less Oregon.
HB 549 was “modeled after” Oregon’s Measure 109, which established a legal regime for psilocybin in the state. However, anyone with even a passing knowledge of Florida knows that taking a cue from Oregon is unlikely to be a successful rallying cry in the Sunshine State. As discussed above, Republicans control both houses in the Florida legislature, as well as the governorship and the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. By contrast, Oregon’s governor and two U.S. senators are Democrats, and their party controls both legislative chambers.
According to Grieco, the current bills “plagiarized” legislation passed last summer in Texas, which mandates a study into psychedelic treatment for veterans grappling with PTSD. The stated goal is that Florida’s Republican legislature “will follow the lead of the GOP-led legislature in the Lone Star state.”
Florida’s proposed study would be broader in scope than the Texan one, but Grieco “plans to focus on veteran access.” In a state with a robust military presence and at least 1.5 million veterans, this concern is likely to resonate. This in turn could help garner support for the proposed law from within Republicans in the legislature.
Obtaining Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature might present a different challenge. While the governor is being coy about any presidential ambitions, he is clearly playing to a nationwide Republican audience, which might demand more conservatism than Florida’s electorate. In this context, DeSantis might decide that vetoing a “magic mushrooms” bill is a savvy political move, regardless of what is best for Floridians. This all said, the Texas law would give DeSantis some cover, if he wanted it. With some deft messaging, Navy man DeSantis could even use support for the bill as a way of highlighting his military credentials.
Between the legislative process and the actual study, there is a long road ahead for Florida when it comes to psychedelics legalization. However, the ripple effects of a favorable vote in Florida, itself a ripple from the Texas law, could manifest themselves much earlier, in the form of new bills and studies on psychedelics in conservative and centrist states.
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