A bill to legalize possession of psychedelics in California was approved by the California Senate on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), which previously cleared three committees, passed 21-16 on the floor.
If enacted into law, the bill would remove criminal penalties for possessing or sharing numerous psychedelics—including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine, LSD and MDMA—for adults 21 and older.
“This approach moves us away from the failed war on drugs, which was based on the badly flawed premise that criminalizing, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning people for using drugs will somehow deter their use and will somehow improve public safety,” Wiener said prior to the vote. “If there’s anything we’ve learned from the past half-century it’s that throwing people in jail for using drugs doesn’t stop drug use.”
The measure 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 last month as part of an amendment from the sponsor.
Under the bill, 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.
Mescaline derived from peyote is specifically excluded from the bill’s reform provisions “because of the nearly endangered status of the peyote plant and the special significance peyote holds in Native American spirituality.” This has been a contentious issue overall, with advocates and indigenous groups divided on where peyote should fall within a psychedelics reform model.
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While the bill is being described by lawmakers and advocates as simple “decriminalization,” the official legislative analysis of the proposal states that it would “make lawful” the personal possession and social sharing of these substances.
Meanwhile, a group of California activists announced plans earlier this year to put an initiative to legalize the use and retail sale of psilocybin on the state’s 2022 ballot. That group, Decriminalize California, said that it would first work to convince lawmakers to pursue reform and then take the issue directly to the people if the legislature fails to act.
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.
The Northampton, Massachusetts City Council passed a resolution in April to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. It’s the third city in the state to advance the policy change, following Somerville and Cambridge.
These are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread rapidly since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.
In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and more broadly decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Texas lawmakers recently sent their governor a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.
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 last month. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
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