Nevada committee to vote on bill for research, decriminalization of psilocybin

Illustration: Ian Racoma

Greg Rea had his first experience with psychedelics when he was 56 years old. Up until then, he’d been a Reno police officer on SWAT for 12 years before retiring from the force to become a pastor and then a real estate investor.

“I retired a couple years ago, but I still was a pretty tightly wound guy,” Rea tells the Weekly in a phone interview. “And I had a seven-days-a-week drinking problem.”

Rea says that despite having a “pretty good life,” like many first responders, alcohol use was adversely affecting him—until about three years ago, when a friend invited him to a group psychedelic experience.

During that experience, which comprised several sessions, a combination of psilocybin [the drug in “magic” mushrooms] and MDMA [aka ecstasy or Molly]took Rea back to two “fairly violent, critical incidents” in which he was involved as a SWAT officer. The intense, emotional trip led to a breakthrough, he says.

“I realized I had some form of PTSD connected to those things,” Rea says. “And I had no idea I’d carried it for almost 20 years.”

After group sessions with other first responders, he began to find a community to talk about mental health—“inner world things” that the wider community might misunderstand. “First responders are exposed to an inordinate amount of human suffering [that] the typical citizen isn’t. So, we said, why don’t we start our own group?”

In the group, firefighters, first responders and current and former military service members are opening up and “finding their healing with psychedelic medicine,” he says. “And I’m free from my seven-days-a-week alcohol habit. My life is just inordinately better. And my relationships are better.”

Rea was one of many who gave public comment during a March 23 hearing for Senate Bill 242 (SB242).

In his testimony, Assemblyman Max Carter said that his therapy with ketamine, the only drug currently legal for psychedelic therapy, has been “transformational” in his mental health and struggle with chronic depression.

“Psilocybin, studies show, is much more powerful. Where I’ve gone through eight or nine ketamine sessions, [it] probably would have been one or two [sessions], if psilocybin was legal,” Carter said, adding that, based on studies, the effects of psilocybin appear to be longer lasting than ketamine.

The bill would establish a framework for research of psilocybin in the state and, if passed as amended, decriminalize possession of the substance, currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug.

At the March 23 hearing, bill sponsor Sen. Rochelle Nguyen presented an amended bill to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Stakeholders provided testimony and answered questions from the panel of lawmakers.

Compared to the original bill draft, the amended version removes mention of research of MDMA, and adds provisions for decriminalization of possession of up to six ounces of psilocybin for adults 21 and older. The proposed amendment also removes guidelines for research facilities to apply to study psychedelics. Instead, a Psychedelic Medicines Working Group would develop a plan on how to “enable access” to these substances, and present that plan at the next legislative session.

“One of the things that I really wanted to take a look at … is this failed war on drugs and this failed classification on how we look at drugs,” Nguyen said. “This is one of the most disproportionate penalties and punishments for this type of possession.”

Current state law classifies possession of one ounce of mushrooms as a Category B felony, carrying one to 10 years of jail time and a fine as high as $50,000, she noted.

Although many testified in support of the bill as amended—largely citing psychedelic therapies’ ability to help with PTSD, substance use disorder and behavioral health—several groups, most notably law enforcement, testified in opposition.

“I think the most terrifying thing to us [is], with so much fentanyl out there right now, what we’re seeing is an increase in recreational psilocybin. And we’re seeing that increase in our nightclubs and large music events,” Metro Police Sgt. Beth Schmidt said.

In contrast to Washoe County police, who “do not run into a lot of mushroom arrests,” according to Jason Walker from Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Schmidt said Metro Narcotics “impounded 29 pounds” of psilocybin in 2022. On behalf of the department, Schmidt said that decriminalization of psilocybin “is a threat to public safety.”

“We oppose SB242 as written, because this is a decriminalization bill. Psilocybin is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, and it is prohibited at the federal level,” Schmidt said. “Decriminalization aside, we don’t disagree that making psilocybin medically available is perhaps a next step. We acknowledge that addressing mental health is a priority for this state and for our citizens.”

Schmidt added that, because psilocybin remains classified Schedule 1 under federal law (as does cannabis) Las Vegas police would not be permitted to use the drug for mental health therapies. “It wouldn’t be allowed, per policy, for them to use this,” she said.

Nguyen says that, since the hearing, she has held “numerous working groups” to further modify the bill.

“The vast majority of stakeholders were united in the importance of addressing and studying the effects of psilocybin on mental health and suicidal ideation,” reads a partial statement from Nguyen. “My legislative priority and intention was to address the ongoing crisis Nevada is facing, and continues to be.”

Thus far, Oregon is the only state that has legalized psilocybin for supervised therapeutic use. Reports as of November 2022 say a majority—25 of 36 Oregon counties—voted against even that.

The City of Henderson opposed the bill as amended, for the decriminalization of possession. “We believe this is a big step and may have severe unintended consequences to our community,” said a city representative.

In Carson City, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to hold a work session for SB242 on April 13. A simple majority vote of the five-member committee is required to move the bill to the Senate floor.

The Weekly reached out to the office of Gov. Joe Lombardo, former Metro Sheriff and a U.S. Army veteran, for comment on the bill’s amendments. His staff did not return the request, but Lombardo has said before that he won’t comment on any bills until they reach his desk.

Click HERE to subscribe for free to the Weekly Fix, the digital edition of Las Vegas Weekly! Stay up to date with the latest on Las Vegas concerts, shows, restaurants, bars and more, sent directly to your inbox!

Tags: News
Photo of Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller joined Las Vegas Weekly in early 2022 as a staff writer. Since 2016, she has gathered a smorgasbord ...

Get more Shannon Miller
Top of Story