The advisory board that is tasked with crafting the rules for Oregon’s nascent psilocybin industry voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt a motion that requires all board members to verbally disclose their personal and financial conflicts of interest—potential, actual or anticipated—during its next monthly meeting.
Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board member Rachel Knox, who chairs the equity subcommittee, introduced the proposal at the Feb. 23 monthly meeting.
“I’m presenting this conversation because I know the equity subcommittee has witnessed a considerable number of calls on the board to declare potential and de facto conflicts of interest,” Knox said. She also noted that the board has been meeting for nearly a year now.
In addition to financial and business conflicts, Knox placed an emphasis on the need to disclose personal interests. Another board member, Todd Korthuis, asked Knox if she could elaborate on what constitutes a personal interest.
“No, I cannot be more specific. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be specific in this forum,” Knox said. “A personal relationship, absolutely, you all understand, can extend beyond an immediate family member. That can extend to significant others, it can extend to friends, it can extend to other family members that aren’t in your immediate family. I think that the need to be broad should cover that.”
The board voted unanimously Wednesday to verbally disclose those conflicts during its next meeting, slated for March 23. At that same meeting, the board will also vote on adopting an amendment to its bylaws that codifies annual disclosure requirements for business, financial and employment conflicts.
The proposed amendment would establish brighter lines around disclosure requirements compared to the relatively vague language that currently exists in the board’s bylaws, which reads: “While acting as members of the OPAB, members will adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and will be responsible for understanding and acting in accordance with the provisions of ORS chapter 244, including the code of ethics.”
It is unclear what exactly prompted the request for clearer disclosure requirements. But the proposal follows WW’s cover story last week, which raised questions about the role of board members who have established or plan to operate businesses in the psilocybin industry, for which they are crafting rules and stand to profit from. (The board makes recommendations to the Oregon Health Authority, which is the ultimate decision-maker.)
Several board members have announced or indicated plans to operate a psilocybin-related business. Take for example the advisory board chair, Tom Eckert, who was the chief co-petitioner of the 2020 ballot measure that legalized psilocybin use in the state. WW profiled Eckert’s business, InnerTrek LLC, through which he plans to operate a training program for “facilitators,” or the people who will operate their own psilocybin service centers.
The other three businesses WW featured are international: Two are based in the Netherlands, and one is in Canada. Knox on Wednesday said the scope of disclosure should extend to interests a board member may have in businesses that exist outside of the state.
“I think all of those things have to be considered,” she said, “especially considering how many people from out of Oregon are wanting and planning to come into Oregon to conduct business.”
During yesterday’s meeting, several board members expressed their intentions to pursue business ventures in the psilocybin industry in some form. But that also created some confusion about the ethical and legal requirements to recuse themselves from a vote that presents a potential conflict.
“I’m a bit confused with this requirement to recuse because board members were selected, were appointed, in many cases knowing that they had plans to start businesses,” said board member Ali Hamade. “And probably some people want to start businesses later if they don’t declare them now. So, knowing that, why would we want to prevent those appointed board members from voting knowing that some of them had clear plans from the beginning?”
It will likely require more discussion to determine what that looks like in practice. But there appeared to be general agreement among board members on Wednesday that a recusal clause should also be added to the proposed amendment.
“I think we should have an expectation,” said board member Barb Hansen, “if I personally am going to gain by a certain vote because I have a conflict, I think my obligation is to recuse myself.”