On Tuesday, the California Senate passed a bill to decriminalize psychedelics possession and social sharing in the state.
SB-519, sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco, passed with a 21-16 vote on the Senate floor after having cleared three separate committees.
If passed into law, the legislation would eliminate criminal penalties for possession and sharing various psychedelics including psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, LSD, ketamine, ibogaine, and DMT. Specifically, per the text of the bill, SB 519 “would make lawful the possession for personal use, as described, and the social sharing, as defined, of [certain psychedelics] by and with persons 21 years of age or older.” The bill defines “social sharing” as the “giving away” or “consensual administering. . . not for financial gain.” Notably, it excludes explicitly mescaline derived from peyote, which has been a contentious issue among advocates and indigenous groups.
Additionally, the legislation would repeal portions of the California criminal code prohibiting the cultivation and transportation of mushroom spores associated with the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. It further tasks the California Department of Public Health—the agency currently responsible for regulating cannabis manufacturers—with creating a working group designed to explore the possible legalization and use of psychedelics in various contexts.
While the bill initially provided for revisiting the sentences of those with possession of psychedelics convictions while sealing criminal records, that provision did not make it through the committee process. In addition to permitting Californians to produce and use certain psychedelic substances, SB 519 officially recognizes the medical application of these drugs.
MAKING THE CASE TO DECRIMINALIZE PSYCHEDELICS
Regarding the bill, Wiener has said, “the War on Drugs has failed us, and criminalizing these substances doesn’t make anyone safer. . . it’s time to move away from failed drug criminalization policies and toward a science- and health-based approach.” On Monday, Wiener added, “psychedelics show great promise in helping people deal with complex trauma, depression, anxiety, and addiction.”
Indeed, a 2020 Journal of Psychopharmacology study found that a single psilocybin dose was able to produce an anxiolytic and antidepressant response in cancer patients with benefits lasting five years.
“Participants overwhelmingly (71–100%) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives,” researchers said in the study.
A 2018 Johns Hopkins Medicine research paper also found that psilocybin has a “low potential for abuse.” “When rats push a lever to receive psilocybin, they don’t keep pushing the lever like they do for drugs such as cocaine, alcohol or heroin,” Johns Hopkins researchers said in the study.
Earlier this year, Decriminalize California, a group of activists, announced its plans to work with lawmakers to get an initiative to legalize the retail sale and use of psilocybin on California’s 2022 ballot. If those efforts fail, the group intends to take the issue directly to the people.
The bill now passes to the General Assembly for a vote. If successful, the bill will move on to Governor Newsom’s desk for signature.
This content is intended for general information only. It should not be construed as legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any recipient. Readers are advised to consult with counsel before relying on this information.
Nicole is a California cannabis lawyer and specializes in data privacy, cybersecurity, and labor and employment. Nicole works with licensed cannabis and hemp operators throughout the country to comply with their obligations under the law and to develop risk management best practices.
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