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.Long Strange Trip

California may decriminalize some psychedelics

music in the park san jose

It’s been a long and fraught struggle, but to the surprise of even some advocates, the chances are now decent that California is about to decriminalize several psychedelic substances, including psilocybin—that is, “magic mushrooms”—DMT and mescaline. It looks likely that Gov. Gavin Newsom will make the final determination and nobody seems to know what he might do.

The state Assembly passed the legalization bill last week, joining the Senate’s earlier approval. The bill, SB-58, will go back to the Senate for votes on amendments before being sent to Newsom for his possible signature. The Assembly voted 42-11.

Evidence is mounting that certain psychedelics can help with mental conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which has won them the support of some mental-health professionals and organizations, as well as veterans groups. The bill includes provisions for creating regulations governing the medical use of the substances. But psychedelics are also used recreationally and in religious rituals, with few negative social consequences. With the substances covered, those uses will be legal, too. As is happening with cannabis, the justifications for making it a crime to possess or use psychedelics have come under serious question in recent years.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, is a smaller, narrower version of Weiner’s original proposal. Lawmakers have whittled away at it and demanded changes such as removing some substances from the bill. One recent Assembly amendment, which must now be approved by the Senate, removed ibogaine from the list of allowable substances. The Assembly also lowered possession limits and delayed implementation of the bill until 2025.

Nevertheless, Weiner and other advocates hailed the vote as a victory. “California’s veterans, first responders, and others struggling with PTSD, depression, and addiction deserve access to these promising plant medicines,” Wiener said in a statement. “SB-58 has prudent safeguards in place after we incorporated feedback from three years of deep engagement with a broad array of stakeholders.”

“We know these substances are not addictive,” Wiener continued, “and they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most intractable conditions driving our nation’s mental health crisis. It’s time to stop criminalizing people who use psychedelics for healing or personal well-being.”

Or, for that matter, for fun, though of course lawmakers can’t really emphasize  that.

If signed into law, SB-58 would allow people 21 and older to cultivate or possess up to four grams of mescaline, up to one gram of DMT and up to one gram of psilocybin or up to an ounce of mushrooms containing psilocybin or enough spores to grow those amounts. The delay in the bill’s effective date until January 2025 was added to give time to the California Health and Human Services Agency to recommend a framework to regulate the therapeutic administration of the decriminalized substances, as well as ibogaine, which will not be decriminalized under this bill.

Wiener initially sought to also decriminalize several other substances, including LSD and MDMA (ecstasy). Lawmakers balked and last year Wiener’s bill failed. To gain the support of certain lawmakers, as well as of outside groups like those representing law enforcement—some of which shifted their stance from “opposed” to “neutral”—he removed all “synthetic” substances, and now the bill is explicitly limited to psychedelics that are directly derived from plants or fungi.

Eliminating the other drugs didn’t sit well with some advocates, but it seems likely that nothing would have passed at all if they weren’t yanked from the bill. As recently as June, Wiener and others cast doubt on the bill’s chances. In fact, Wiener sounded downright pessimistic. During an online confab with the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council, he warned that even getting it through the Assembly’s Health Committee would be a challenge. “We barely got it out by the skin of our teeth last year, and the committee is probably less favorable this year,” he said. “We’re just going to do our very best to try to move forward.”

The big uncertainty now is whether Newsom will sign the bill into law. His stances on various drug-related issues have been unpredictable. Last year, he vetoed Wiener’s bill to create a pilot program to create safe-consumption sites for drug addicts. Nobody seems to have a bead on what he might do with the psychedelics bill, and he hasn’t weighed in so far.


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