Psychedelic decriminalization bill approved by California Assembly Committee

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Tuesday, June 29, a California Assembly approved a Senate-passed measure to legalize psychedelic substance possession. The passing of Senate Bill 519 represents the first stepping stone in the measure gaining a green light from the chamber. 

California’s psychedelics possession legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), advanced by the Assembly Public Safety Committee in a 5-3 vote. Its approval occurred one day after a rally was hosted by the senator; an event that saw health officials, law enforcement workers and military veterans show support for the proposal.

Under the terms of SB 519, adults aged 21 and over would not face a criminal penalty for sharing or possessing various types of psychedelics, such as DMT, MDMA, LSD, ibogaine and psilocybin mushrooms. Approved earlier in June, the bill managed to attract support from the full Senate. Now, it shifts to the Public Health and Appropriations Committees, before making its way to a floor vote and facing its ultimate fate in the hands of the governor.

“Under SB 519, we will no longer arrest people and incarcerate them for the simple personal possession of psychedelics for personal or shared use,” Wiener declared to the committee on the day of the measure’s passing. “That’s really the question here: Do we believe that we should be arresting someone because they possess psychedelics for personal use? I don’t think we should. Frankly, I think most people don’t think we should be doing that.”

The Senator took to Twitter to express his excitement about the fact that the Assembly Public Safety Committee successfully passed legislation to decriminalize psychedelic possession in California. 

“Another step toward ending the failed & racist War on Drugs & expanding access to mental health & addiction treatment,” read his enthusiastic Tweet. “Thank you, colleagues!”

Working group to be established under California’s psychedelics decriminalization bill

Although the road ahead looks to be “very challenging,” according to Wiener, the senator remains confident that California’s psychedelics bill could have a significant impact in the near future. He maintains his vision that SB 519 can successfully enhance mental health reform and prevent incidences of criminalization; both areas create a significant dent in economic resources, such as labor time and funding.

Originally, the bill contained a provision that would seal previous psychedelics-related convictions and provide resentencing opportunities. However, the final committee review that took place before the Senate vote saw that language removed; prompted by an amendment from the bill’s sponsor. 

Wiener attributed the policy change to the fact that, on the basis of fiscal analysis, it “ended up generating a huge price tag.” However, if the bill passes, separate legislation could be amended to contain similar language.

The state Department of Public Health would also be tasked with establishing 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.” The submission deadline for those recommendations is January 1, 2024.

California’s psychedelics bill could pave the way for decriminalization of all illicit drugs

During a recent event hosted by the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC), Sen. Scott Wiener openly discussed the subject of psychedelics decriminalization in California. He told wide-eyed crowds that he believes the legislative advancement will serve as a catalyst to decriminalize all drugs that are currently deemed to be illicit. 

“This bill is one step in the direction of ending the failed war on drugs,” Wiener is quoted as saying the day prior to SB 519’s passing. The following day, he continued to discuss the subject, saying that drug prohibition has, in general, been a failure.”

“We’ve been trying to arrest our way out of drug use and addiction for 50 years, and it hasn’t improved anything whatsoever,” stated Wiener. “People are still using it. People are still getting addicted—not to psychedelics, because these are generally not addictive, but to other drugs. And all we’ve done is fill up our prison with drug crimes, and we’re not safer and we’ve just spent a whole lot of money.”

Although it remains uncertain as to whether or not Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) would sign California’s decriminalization bill into law, its enactment would “make lawful” the social sharing and personal possession of psychedelic substances. Included in the realm of “psychedelic” substances that Wiener supported were ketamine and mescaline.

“There are disagreements within the psychedelic world on it,” the senator admitted to proponents. “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 up on things without getting some ability to move the bill forward as a result.”

Ketamine is an anesthetic known for inducing trance-like states of consciousness, amnesia, sedation and pain relief. Mescaline, on the other hand, is a cacti-derived psychedelic substance. SB 519 stipulates that mescaline possession would be permitted if it is derived from non-peyote plants, including “the Bolivian Torch Cactus, Peruvian Torch Cactus or San Pedro Cactus.”

California’s psychedelics decriminalization legislation would also rescind statutory provisions that forbid the cultivation or transportation of “any spores or mycelium capable of producing mushrooms or other material” that contain psilocybin. 

Earlier in the year, activists from Decriminalize California pushed to get an initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot that would legalize the consumption and retail sale of psilocybin.