Around two-dozen activists rallied on Monday outside the headquarters of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Arlington, Va. to protest the agency’s refusal to grant people with terminal illnesses access to experimental drugs like psilocybin and MDMA.
For several hours, the demonstrators blocked entrances to the federal building, shouting slogans like “DEA, get out of the way” as they set off colorful smoke bombs and unfurled yellow caution tape that read “THE DEA IS LAWLESS.”
They showed up to denounce the agency’s ongoing decision to ignore the Right to Try Act, a 2018 federal law that authorized people diagnosed with life-threatening diseases to use certain “unapproved” drugs if they are unable to participate in supervised clinical trials. The bill was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump after receiving approval from Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.
But activists say DEA officials have failed to comply with the law, instead engaging in delay tactics that have deprived people with little time left to live from access to drugs that research shows provide significant relief from mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. In some of the most promising evidence yet on psilocybin –– a psychedelic drug that naturally occurs in some mushrooms –– researchers at New York University found that a single dose could reduce mental anguish in advanced cancer patients for more than six months at a time.
“We shouldn’t be sending terminally-ill patients into back alleys to find their medicine,” said Adam Eidinger, a prominent local drug activist and the founder of DC Marijuana Justice.
Eidinger was flanked by Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, an activist and philanthropist whose company helped fund D.C.’s campaign for Initiative 81, a ballot measure that decriminalized magic mushrooms in the District in 2021.
Kathryn Tucker, an attorney with Emerge Law Group, told The Outlaw Report DEA’s choice to delay access to psilocybin has been harmful to many patients.
“The entire premise of Right to Try is a recognition that dying patients don’t have time to wait for the long process of new drug approval. So too, they don’t have the time to wait for DEA’s delay,” Tucker said. “Delay is justice forever denied for dying cancer patients,” she added.
Last year, she and other attorneys filed a lawsuit against DEA on behalf of patients and the Advanced Integrative Medical Science (AIMS) Institute, a Seattle clinic that provides drug-assisted therapy to people with serious and chronic illnesses. Since then, eight states plus the District of Columbia, along with two conservative think tanks and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed amicus briefs in support of the lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“DEA’s refusal to recognize accommodation for state [Right to Try] laws in the face of the clear intent of Congress poses a threat to state sovereignty,” said the brief from the states. A total of 41 states (and counting) have now passed laws allowing people with terminal illnesses to try experimental drugs in some form, according to RightToTry.org.
On Monday, police initially ignored protesters, frustrating some who hoped making a scene would get them a meeting with DEA officials. It wasn’t until the activists started painting onto the building’s glass facade and pulling down a DEA flag that police stepped in to arrest people. In the end, agents with the Department of Homeland Security charged 17 protestors — including some terminally-ill patients — with trespassing and vandalism. The activists were put in handcuffs and driven down to the federal courthouse in a peaceful scene.
Erinn Baldeschwiler, who has been battling stage-four metastatic breast cancer for the last two years, was among those arrested on Monday afternoon. Baldeschwiler is one of the plaintiffs in the AIMS Institute lawsuit against DEA. After receiving her cancer diagnosis in 2020, she was invited AIMS Institute to receive psychotherapy assisted by ketamine, a medically legal drug used to treat pain and treatment-resistant depression.
She said taking Ketamine has significantly improved her quality of life as a cancer patient.
“It opened my mind and really validated that I’m on the right path,” Baldeschwiler said. “It takes your mind out of the equation.”
But Baldeschwiler, who is “not a big fan of prescription drugs,” hopes she’ll soon be able to get started on psilocybin treatment as well. “I believe in these natural medicines,” she said, adding that “healing is a very individual journey.”