A bill to legalize possession of psychedelics in California will advance to the Senate floor after clearing a major procedural hurdle on Thursday.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), had already moved through two policy committees. But in order to make it on the floor calendar, it had to be cleared by the Senate Appropriations Committee as part of a large suspense file on a key deadline. Otherwise it would have been dead for the session.
The panel approved it in a 5-2 vote.
There was no debate on the proposal. Rather, the chair simply said which of the hundreds bills that were on the suspense file would proceed to the floor. This means the psychedelics reform measure will be taken up by the full chamber by June 4. If it passes there it will head to the Assembly and then, potentially, to the governor’s desk.
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.
Our legislation to decriminalize psychedelics, #SB519, passed a key committee and will be voted on by the full Senate within the next two weeks.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) May 20, 2021
The measure originally included record sealing and resentencing provisions for people previously convicted of psychedelics possession offenses, but that language was removed on Thursday 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.
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.
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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.”
The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting earlier this 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.