A California bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca will not advance further this year following a decision by the sponsor that more time is needed to build the case for the reform and solidify its chances of being enacted.
The Senate-passed legislation advanced through a second reading on the Assembly floor last week before being re-referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which was set to determine on Thursday whether it could be cleared for final passage. But it was ultimately decided that the proposal would be made into a two-year bill, meaning it won’t advance to the floor this year but is still technically alive and could be taken up in 2022.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), previously cleared the full Senate and then moved through the Assembly Public Health and Public Safety Committees.
Wiener has spent significant energy building support for the reform proposal as it has moved through the legislature, including by holding a recent rally with military veterans, law enforcement and health officials.
But while the senator expressed disappointment that his proposal won’t be enacted this year, he said the extra time will enable supporters to further refine the legislation and generate broader buy-in. He said in a press release Thursday that he’s “heartened that the bill moved as deep into the process as it did and that we have a realistic chance of passing it next year.”
2/ #SB519 advanced deep into the legislative process — honestly, way further than I anticipated, since it’s a new idea in the Legislature. It passed the full Senate & both Assembly policy committees.
But we need more time to build support in the Assembly to achieve final passage
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) August 26, 2021
“Given that this idea had never before been introduced in the legislature, our progress is a testament to the power of the issue and the urgency of the need to act,” he said. “I’m so grateful to my colleagues for working with us and advancing the bill so significantly. Now that we have more time, I’m optimistic through education and member engagement we can pass this critical legislation next year.”
“Decriminalizing psychedelics is an important step in ending the failed War on Drugs, and we are committed to this fight. Our mental health crisis is worse than ever, and psychedelics have shown great promise in treating mental health issues from PTSD to anxiety and depression,” Wiener continued. “I look forward to working hard to continue this fight.”
4/ The War on Drugs is a complete failure. We shouldn’t be arresting people for possessing or using drugs. And people should be able to access psychedelics to address mental health & addiction challenges. #SB519 needs to pass & California needs to lead on this issue.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) August 26, 2021
SB 519 would remove criminal penalties for possessing numerous psychedelics—including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine, LSD and MDMA—for adults 21 and older.
As a result of changes approved by the Public Health Committee, the bill currently includes language laying out the limits for what is an allowable personal possession amount for each substance. That led Decriminalize Nature (DN), a group that’s worked to enact psychedelics reform across the country, to call for the tabling of the legislation.
This latest development in Appropriations is likely welcome news for DN to that end, as members now have more time to make the case for eliminating the possession limitation provision, or reaching some kind of compromise.
Other advocates, however, say they were taking a practical position on the revision, accepting the possession limits in the interest of advancing the reform through a legislature that may otherwise defeat the bill if it contained no such restrictions.
These are the prescribed limits for personal possession that would be legalized:
-2 grams of DMT
-15 grams of ibogaine
-0.01 grams of LSD
-4 grams of mescaline
-2 grams of the controlled substance psilocybin or 4 ounces of a plant or fungi containing the controlled substance psilocybin.
-2 grams of the controlled substance psilocyn or 4 ounces of a plant or fungi containing the controlled substance of psilocyn
-4 grams of MDMA.
In the Public Safety Committee, Wiener supported an amendment from the panel that removed ketamine from the list of psychedelics included in the reform. That’s in addition to a series of technical revisions that were made to the legislation.
The full Senate approved the bill in June. Wiener has described its prospects going forward as “very challenging,” but he made the case at a recent press event that it is a necessary policy change to advance mental health reform and end criminalization.
Under the measure, the state Department of Public Health would be required to establish a working group “to study and make recommendations regarding possible regulatory systems that California could adopt to promote safe and equitable access to certain substances in permitted legal contexts.” Those recommendations would be due by January 1, 2024.
For psilocybin specifically, the legislation would repeal provisions in California statute that prohibit the cultivation or transportation of “any spores or mycelium capable of producing mushrooms or other material” that contain the psychoactive ingredient.
The bill originally included record sealing and resentencing provisions for people previously convicted of psychedelics possession offenses, but that language was removed in its last committee stop prior to the Senate floor vote as part of an amendment from the sponsor.
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Wiener said the reasoning behind that deletion was that the policy “ended up generating a huge price tag” based on a fiscal analysis, but it could be addressed in separate legislation if the main bill passes.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC) in June, the senator said advancing the legislation would be first step toward decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs. He reiterated that point on Monday, stating that “this bill is one step in the direction of ending the failed war on drugs.”
While the bill is being described by lawmakers and advocates as simple “decriminalization,” the official legislative analysis of the proposal states that it “makes possession and facilitated or supported use of specified hallucinogenics legal.”
If the bill does ultimately clear the Assembly, it still remains unclear whether Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) would sign it—though the governor has long been an outspoken critic of the war on drugs.
Wiener backed the prior ketamine-related amendment in an effort to build support for the legislation.
“There are disagreements within the psychedelic world on it,” the senator said at a meeting with activists in June. “My view as you keep things in until you have to make a give, and that’s one that we could potentially give on. You don’t want to spontaneously give on things without getting some ability to move the bill forward as a result.”
Mescaline, a psychoactive compound derived from peyote and other cacti, is another controversial psychedelic.
It was specifically excluded from the bill’s reform provisions in peyote-derived form, but the possession of the compound would be allowed if it comes from other plants such as “the Bolivian Torch Cactus, San Pedro Cactus, or Peruvian Torch Cactus.”
That decision on the peyote exclusion was informed by native groups who have strongly pushed back against decriminalizing the cacti for conservationist reasons and because of its sacred value for their communities.
Meanwhile, California psychedelics activists recently filed a petition for the 2022 ballot to make the state the first in the nation to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for any use.
The psychedelics effort in the California legislature, which Wiener first previewed back in November, comes as activists are stepping up the push to enact psychedelics reform locally in cities in the state and across the country. The bill notes those efforts in an explanation of the proposal.
Advocates are also actively making new strides to reform local laws governing psychedelics.
Most recently, activists are advancing reform in Easthampton, Massachusetts; Grand Rapids, Michigan and Arcata, California.
The latest developments in those cities are just some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.
In California, Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council approved the policy change last year—and earlier this month, local lawmakers passed a resolution to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
Other Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change are: Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge.
The governor of Connecticut recently signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”
The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction.
Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon activists are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
The psychedelics conversation is also catching on at the federal level.
But in a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example
It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.