House panel rejects medical use of 'magic mushrooms' in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The medical use of “magic mushrooms” is up for debate in the Virginia General Assembly, but the bill is unlikely to pass after a key panel of lawmakers rejected it on Wednesday.

A Republican-led House Courts of Justice subcommittee voted 5-2 to “lay the bill on the table,” a gentle way of killing legislation while leaving open the possibility of revisiting it later.

Military veterans like Anthony Mijares are at the forefront of the movement to loosen Virginia’s laws around psychedelic mushrooms, called “psilocybin.”

Mijares plans to launch what he calls Richmond’s first mushroom dispensary next month. He plans to sell growing supplies and some functional fungi that have mind-altering qualities but are not federally scheduled, according to Mijares.

Under current law, possession of psilocybin is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a possible $2,500 fine.

Mijares said using psilocybin helped him manage depression and suicidal thoughts after eight years of military service, but the threat of incarceration is preventing many veterans struggling with mental illness from doing the same.

“I was a walking zombie,” Mijares told lawmakers on Wednesday. “Just one dose was enough for me to understand and realize the power of self-healing.”

A bill sponsored by Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) would allow doctors to prescribe psilocybin for a short list of mental health conditions, including PTSD, end-of-life anxiety and cases of severe depression where past treatments haven’t worked. She said a growing body of research supports these benefits.

“We’re not trying to make it legal. We’re just trying to make it not illegal for certain people,” Adams said in an interview before the vote. “In the event that you’re caught with these and you meet the criteria, the charges would be essentially dropped.”

Last year, Adams tried but failed to decriminalize psilocybin in a politically divided government. That’s why, this year, she is taking a more incremental approach. She said her bill mimics the 2015 law that opened the door for CBD and won the approval of Republicans.

“It allows us to see what it looks like to have people use this as a treatment modality,” Adams said. “That will determine whether there is reason to maybe expand this in the future.”

As introduced, the bill also aimed to lower the punishment for possession of psilocybin from a felony to a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days behind bars and a $500 fine for a first offense.  

GOP lawmakers like Del. Wren Williams (R-Patrick), who voted against the bill on Wednesday, still aren’t sold on the research.

“This is not ready yet,” Williams said. “We need larger studies. We need to see more long-term effects.”

Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), who chairs the full House Courts of Justice Committee, said it’s too much to take up during a short session. He said complications with marijuana legalization have made them wary of moving too fast.

No one spoke against the bill during public comment.

Another bill introduced by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) would establish a Virginia Psilocybin Advisory Board, a 12-member panel made up of citizens appointed by the governor, “to develop a long-term strategic plan for establishing therapeutic access to psilocybin services and monitor and study federal laws, regulations, and policies regarding psilocybin.” Hashmi’s bill would also reclassify the drug from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance.

Moving forward, Mijares hopes hesitant lawmakers will take the time to learn from stories like his.

“It’s people like myself who advocate for these plant medicines to be able to help other veterans to go on their journey and path of healing,” Mijares said.