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When mushrooms meet bureaucracy: 5 Questions for Oregon Psilocybin Services Manager Angela Allbee
Allbee discusses Oregon Psilocybin Services' work over the last two years, and what to expect in the coming months as OPS implements Measure 109.
By the time Oregon’s Measure 109 passed, Angela Allbee had been working in state government for almost a decade. She held policy roles with the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, the House Majority Office, and the Oregon Legislative Assembly — and before that, she spent about a decade working for non-profits that helped veterans, survivors of domestic violence, refugees, and other communities in need. Her father was a Vietnam War veteran, so she was no stranger to the impacts of war and trauma.
Oregon Health Authority formed a new section called Oregon Psilocybin Services, or OPS, to work out how psilocybin services would be administered in the state. After the agency posted a job to manage this new government effort, Allbee was immediately interested; she saw an opportunity to apply what she’d learned in the non-profit and government sectors about bringing stakeholders to the table around implementing policy.
As OPS has finalized rules to implement Measure 109 and is beginning to accept applications for licensure, all eyes are on Oregon as it becomes the country’s first state to begin offering state-legal psilocybin services. We spoke with Allbee about OPS’s work over these last two years, and what to expect in coming months.
When might doors open for Oregon’s psilocybin service centers?
I think we’ll have service center doors open in 2023, but I don’t know exactly when. We opened the portal to apply for licenses on January 2nd, and as of today, January 20, we have four manufacturer applications that have been submitted for our review, three service center applications, and 90 worker permit applications. We haven’t had any lab license applications submitted yet, but we have a number of pending applications in the system, as well as pending applications for service centers and manufacturers, and 54 pending facilitator applications. I think those are students that are either still trying to complete their psilocybin facilitator training programs before they can apply.
Testing labs also have to go through an accreditation process before they can apply. Service centers and manufacturers are still still working on local government land use compatibility issues, and navigating local governments’ ordinances to prohibit psilocybin services from operating in certain areas. [Editor’s note: Twenty-five of Oregon’s 36 counties voted in November 2022 to opt out of Measure 109, as did more thanwell as over 100 cities and towns.] For instance, maybe they thought they had property they could use but now they have to pivot to find someplace else. So we know people are just kind of getting their businesses up and running, and it’s going to take some time for us to review applications and do background checks. And that’s just for the simplest applications; for manufacturers, service centers, and labs, we’ll visit the premises for an inspection to make sure everything is within statute and rules requirements.
I know that creating psilocybin services rules was a long process, and the licensing process sounds like it will take real work to get off the ground as well. Are there any particular, or surprising pain points or challenges you see on the horizon?
We are in legislative session right now, and so our biggest focus is our budget. We’re a brand new section, and as part of Measure 109, the legislature provided start-up costs for us. In the 2021-2023 biennium, we were given funding to hire certain positions, but we’ve had 7 to 11 month long delays in the state agency process for hiring and recruiting, so it’s been really difficult. It’s an infrastructure issue, and it’s out of our control.
But as a result, a lot of that funding was reduced because we weren’t hiring fast enough. Currently, we’re still at 50 percent staffing capacity, still hiring to complete our team and make sure we have folks available to do this work — for instance, we’ll be bringing on some new folks for our licensing and compliance program soon.
We’re expected to be entirely funded by licensing fees by June 30 of this year — and we want to make sure that if we don’t have all license applications issued by that date, that we’re still able to do our work. So now, we’re asking the legislature to fund one year of the 2023-2025 biennium so we don't have to raise licensing fees, which we already know are an issue. One year of our work costsis roughly $3.2 million.
You’ve been in this role for two years now. What lessons have you learned along the way?
It’s really important we are all thinking about access and equity. There are a thousand ways that you can implement a statute, but if you implement it through a lens of equity and access and you're really mindful of centering community, then you're going to have a very different approach, and very different outcomes than if you're not.
We’ve talked with a lot of folks who have done cannabis equity work, and it goes without saying that you need funding to build social equity programs. We do have social equity plans required in our rules — our licensees have to submit a social equity plan, which is a first step, but there’s so much work to be done. We’re planning more public listening sessions, we’re partnering with the Office of Small Business Assistance to give people a heads up about things that people starting small businesses might not think of, like Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) and Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA) requirements.
Our advisory board also recently made an acknowledgment that their scientific literature review was missing a lot of cultural and anthropological information. We recently pulled together a summary of information we’ve heard in subcommittees, and posted that to our website with the scientific literature review. Science and research are incredibly important, and we also want to spotlight the thousands of years of knowledge, experience, and wisdom from Indigenous communities and their practices to make sure we’re looking at all of that as we talk about the potential benefits of psilocybin.
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Let’s talk about the feds. As you know, no matter what Oregon does, psilocybin is still a Schedule I drug and is illegal under federal law. Measure 109 actually requires the advisory board to “attempt to meet with the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon to discuss this 2020 Act and potential federal enforcement policies regarding psilocybin in Oregon after the expiration of the two-year program development period.” Has OPS been in touch with federal agencies about psilocybin services? Do we have any idea if the federal government will intervene?
There’s been no federal advocacy, like a Cole memo. [Editor’s note: A 2013 memo issued by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole detailed the federal government’s priorities in prosecuting cases involving marijuana, and signaled that it was largely leaving enforcement of marijuana laws to local and state authorities.] Our statutory focus is implementing what’s in the measure. That said, if someone asks for a conversation or a meeting, we are, of course, going to meet with folks and share what we’re doing.
Regarding the provision you’re citing, we’ve been talking about it in advisory board meetings, but we couldn’t take action until after the development period closed, which just recently happened. We’ve drafted a letter and we actually have it on our agenda for our February board meeting to get board feedback, so we can send it and attempt to meet with Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Colorado just passed Proposition 122, and other states, like Washington and Illinois, have introduced legislation that would establish psilocybin services. Have other states reached out to OPS for advice?
We’ve had a number of states reach out. We’re working closely with Colorado to share feedback, and I’ve participated at a Washington workgroup; I’ll likely be going back for another meeting in the future to share information and answer questions. When you look at a measure, it seems pretty straightforward, but when you put that in the context of a state agency process and infrastructure, there’s a lot of work to be done. We want to be helpful and help create successes for other states, even if our statutes are different.
We have also had folks from around the world reaching out, like people from the Republic of Mexico. It’s been really exciting to see such interest, and to provide information on this global issue that clearly has the power to affect a lot of people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.