A second California Senate committee has approved a bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics and create a working group to study broader reform.
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.
“The war on drugs has been an abject failure because it is based on the false belief, the false notion, that criminalizing people, arresting them, incarcerating them for possessing, for using drugs, will somehow deter use and improve public safety,” Wiener told colleagues before the vote. “It has done neither.”
“Instead we have spent trillions in the last half century on the war on drugs, more people are using drugs now, there’s more addiction, there are more overdoses—I’m talking about drugs generally, not psychedelics. And we have busted taxpayer dollars, and we need to move towards a more health-based approach,” he said.
Our legislation decriminalizing possession of psychedelics (#SB519) just passed the Senate Health Committee — its 2nd committee — & now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
We need to end the War on Drugs & we need to allow people to access psychedelics.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) April 14, 2021
The measure would also provide for the expungements of prior convictions for offenses that it makes lawful.
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,” according to the bill text. Those recommendations would be due by January 1, 2024.
Among changes approved in the prior panel are an expansion of the definition of drug paraphernalia used in connection with psychedelics that would no longer carry criminal penalties if possessed by adults.
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The only revision made in this latest committee is technical in nature, correcting a reference to a “commission” in the bill that was meant to be “working group.”
The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“It’s time to bring this use into the light so we can have a more sensible conversation about safer use of the psychedelics and dispel myths about decriminalization,” Wiener said.
For psilocybin, 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.”
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 recently announced plans 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 earlier this month 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.
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.”