.Shrooms in Bloom

Legalized hallucinogens are once again being considered in California

There are very good arguments for why there shouldn’t be any such thing as an “illegal drug.” Many drugs are highly problematic. They snare people into addiction and destroy lives. This is especially the case with opiates like heroin and fentanyl, which (thanks in large part to the pharmaceutical companies that make and market some of them) have destroyed whole communities. 

For a complex web of reasons (many of them rooted in racism), it was decided to address these social problems through the legal system, jailing people for using the drugs as well as for manufacturing and selling them (unless they happen to be pharmaceutical companies). A saner approach would be to deal with addiction as a public-health issue, but in the United States, and in California, it is often eschewed or at least resisted to take sane approaches to such issues. 

The situation is even more perverse when it comes to substances that grow out of the ground, like cannabis, hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote, and aren’t even necessarily addictive (or if they are, the resulting problems are far less severe). How can a plant be illegal? People have been asking that question for decades, and are only now finally getting around to recognizing the insanity of legally prohibiting natural substances.

Pot was made illegal nationwide in 1937, and it was 65 years before states began legalizing it for adult use. At the federal level, of course, progress has been even slower. 

It’s slower yet when it comes to natural hallucinogens. This is understandable in a way: Shrooms, peyote buttons, etc. can be highly powerful drugs, and downright dangerous if consumed without care. Still, even a child recognizes the illogic of making something illegal that one can pluck off a tree stump during a nature walk. If such substances cause social problems, why must they be addressed by the legal system?

California Sen. Scott Wiener has been asking that question for years now, and has spent much of that time trying to remove hallucinogens from the state’s criminal statutes, just as voters did with cannabis in 2016. So far, his efforts have been thwarted, but he’s back again: Last week, he re-introduced his proposed legislation in modified form to remove synthetic hallucinogens like LSD and MDMA (Ecstasy) which had been stumbling blocks for some lawmakers. 

Never mind that a dose of potent mushrooms can be just as powerful (and potentially dangerous) as LSD: The fact that they are manufactured by humans rather than bestowed by Mother Nature makes them seem, to certain people, somehow more sinister. 

In recent years, some states (Colorado and Oregon) and cities (Oakland, Santa Cruz, Seattle, Washington, DC and several others) have decriminalized the use of naturally occurring hallucinogens in various ways. As happened with cannabis, other states have led the way on what is almost an inevitable evolution in California. 

The increasing normalization of hallucinogens comes as research piles up revealing that hallucinogens have curative properties for mental-health maladies such as depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Wiener introduced his revised proposal, SB 58, during a press conference on Monday where he was flanked by military veterans and mental-health professionals. 

“Decriminalizing psychedelics is not particularly controversial among people,” Wiener said, referencing the small wave of decriminalization initiatives across the country. “Psychedelics have tremendous capacity to help people heal, but right now, using them is a criminal offense. These drugs literally save lives and are some of the most promising treatments we have for PTSD, anxiety, depression and addiction.”

In removing synthetic substances from his bill, Wiener made it more like those other initiatives. Among the substances the measure would decriminalize are psilocybin (mushrooms), DMT and certain forms of mescaline.  

Wiener yanked his earlier bill from consideration four months ago because it had been essentially gutted in committee, thanks to opposition from Republicans as well as a few Democrats, as well as from outside interests like
law-enforcement groups. Those same forces are likely to oppose the new measure as well. As with cannabis, progress on devising sane policy on hallucinogens in California comes only after major struggle. l

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