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In a significant stride towards a more comprehensive understanding of psychedelics, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School has unveiled a new research initiative. The Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) is geared towards fostering safety, innovation, equity, and access in the realm of psychedelics research, commerce, and therapeutics. POPLAR, the first academic initiative of its kind, will focus on the legal, regulatory, and ethical aspects of psychedelics.

The project is led by Mason Marks, a Senior Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center, and I. Glenn Cohen, the center’s faculty director. Marks, who previously organized a panel and digital symposium on psychedelics at the center, decided to establish a more permanent research initiative at Harvard Law School following the positive response to these events.

The timing of POPLAR’s launch is particularly apt, given the rapid changes and emerging legal and ethical issues in the psychedelics space. Both non-profit and for-profit entities are increasingly bringing psychedelics into the mainstream. A case in point is the recent progress of State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 519, a bill aimed at decriminalizing psychedelics in California, which just passed the California State Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety.

Marks highlighted the significance of SB 519, stating that it acknowledges the counterproductive nature of punitive drug enforcement methods characteristic of the US war on drugs. However, he also noted that the bill is not yet final and has undergone revisions, including the removal of ketamine from the decriminalization bill and the elimination of a clause to expunge existing convictions related to possession of psychedelics.

Marks, who is also a member of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board and Chair of its Licensing Subcommittee, drew attention to Oregon’s leadership in drug policy reform. He pointed out that SB 519 expands on Oregon’s Measure 110 by including the cultivation, processing, and social sharing of psychedelic plants in the list of decriminalized activities. Interestingly, this legislative action is not confined to democratic, liberal states. Texas recently mandated state research into psychedelics for the treatment of PTSD, indicating bipartisan support for such initiatives. Marks emphasized the importance of improving mental health treatment approaches and noted that legislators in several states have sponsored bills calling for changes to the legal status of psychedelics.

POPLAR will also focus on the debate around intellectual property in the psychedelics space, examining issues such as biopiracy in psychedelics commercialization and the ethics and social utility of patents on psychedelics-related inventions. The project will concentrate on five key areas, including ethics in psychedelics research and therapeutics, challenges at the intersection of psychedelics and intellectual property law, opportunities for federal support of psychedelics research, access to psychedelic therapies, and the role of psychedelics in healing trauma. The initiative, which is set to run for three years, is funded by grants from Tim Ferriss and Matt Mullenweg through Ferriss’ charitable organization, the Saisei Foundation. This development comes on the heels of the launch of Mass General’s Center for Neuroscience of Psychedelics earlier this year, signaling a growing interdisciplinary interest in the field from prestigious institutions worldwide.

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.