California lawmakers advanced bills to authorize interstate marijuana commerce, secure employment protections for people who use cannabis outside of the workplace and prevent localities from banning medical marijuana delivery services toward crucial floor votes on Thursday. Legislation that would have legalized psychedelics possession was amended in a way that remains unclear, however.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee each convened to decide the fate of the various drug policy reform measures that had previously cleared the opposite chamber on Thursday. Most have been amended along the way, however, so if they are approved on the respective floors of the chambers they are currently in, they will need to return to their bodies of origin for concurrence before potentially being sent to the governor.
One of the most notable bills, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), would, as introduced, legalize the possession of certain amounts of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA by adults 21 and older. It had already passed the Senate and moved through two Assembly committees, but it was placed on hold last year to build support before advancing through Appropriations on Thursday—albeit in significantly amended form.
The legislation, SB 519, was initially drafted to remove criminal penalties for possessing substances like psilocybin, DMT, MDMA and LSD for adults 21 and older. But on Thursday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee approved an amendment for which full text is not yet available. The panel’s chairman simply said the bill was being “passed as amended to retain the Department of Public Health study.”
That left many reporters and advocates—including Wiener himself—confused about what form the bill was advancing in.
Stay tuned on SB 519, our legislation to decriminalize psychedelics. We're still getting final clarity on amendments.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) August 11, 2022
It’s not immediately clear if the amendment deletes the bill’s criminal justice reform provisions that would have removed penalties for possessing certain substances and only maintains a section directing state officials to establish a working group to study and make recommendations regarding future psychedelics reform—or if the opposite occurred, meaning that the main thrust of the bill survives and the study itself was taken out.
Wiener told Marijuana Moment late last year that he felt the far-reaching measure had a “50/50” chance of being enacted into law in 2022.
There’s been some tension within the psychedelics advocacy community over the proposal, which was previously amended to include possession limits and remove ketamine from the list of substances that would no longer be criminalized.
Decriminalize Nature (DN), which has been behind a number of local psychedelics decriminalization measures in recent years, was opposed to SB 519 in its form heading into Thursday’s key vote, with the organization specifically taking issue with the proposed possession limits.
“As a society, we must stand watch and oppose any process where corporate interests attempt to seize control of something that belongs ‘to the people,’ DN said in a statement last month.
These are the prescribed limits for personal possession that would have been legalized under the bill:
-2 grams of DMT
-15 grams of ibogaine
-0.01 grams of LSD
-4 grams of mescaline
-2 grams of the controlled substance psilocybin or 4 ounces of a plant or fungi containing the controlled substance psilocybin.
-2 grams of the controlled substance psilocyn or 4 ounces of a plant or fungi containing the controlled substance of psilocyn
-4 grams of MDMA.
For his part, Wiener has said that he understands the concerns, while arguing that imposing possession limits was a necessary compromise to ensure that the legislation gets enough support to be enacted in the legislature.
Other advocates have also pointed out that while personal possession limits would have been imposed under the revised language, facilitators could have aggregate amounts for group use, meaning they could possess the allowable amount for each individual involved in a ceremony. And when it comes to personal cultivation, there would not have been any limits.
For psilocybin specifically, the legislation as drafted 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.
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The bill also 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 prior to the Senate floor vote as part of an amendment from the sponsor.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC) last year, Wiener said advancing the psychedelics decriminalization legislation would be first step toward decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Activists with Decriminalize California separately tried to put a psilocybin legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot, but they were unable to collect enough signatures by the deadline.
While there’s been significant attention to the psychedelics proposal—as well as another bill from Wiener to create a safe drug consumption site pilot program that was sent to the governor last week—the committees in both chambers also advanced a number of significant cannabis reforms on Thursday.
Here’s a rundown of what the cannabis measures would do:
SB 1326: Sponsored by Sen. Anna Caballero (D), the bill would set the stage to allow for interstate marijuana commerce from California to and from other legal states, contingent on an official assurance that the activity would not put the state at risk of federal enforcement action. It is advancing as New Jersey’s Senate president filed a bill this week to allow interstate cannabis commerce.
AB 2188: Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s (D) bill would “make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person” solely because of off-duty marijuana use. It would eliminate employment-based THC testing, with exceptions for certain positions, such as federal employees or those working in construction.
SB 1186: The legislation from Wiener would “prohibit a local jurisdiction from adopting or enforcing any regulation that prohibits the retail sale by delivery within the local jurisdiction of medicinal cannabis to medicinal cannabis patients or their primary caregivers by medicinal cannabis businesses.”
AB 1706: Assemblymember Mia Bonta’s (D) legislation would require courts to seal eligible cannabis records that were not challenged by July 1, 2020. It passed with an amendment to change reporting requirements on expungements from monthly to quarterly.
SB 1097: This measure from Sen. Richard Pan (D) would require the state Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) to “adopt regulations to require cannabis and cannabis product labels and inserts to include a clear and prominent warning regarding the risks that cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems, in addition to existing labeling requirements.”
AB 1885: The bill from Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D) would prohibit regulators from penalizing licensed veterinarians who recommend medical cannabis for animals and revise state law to include definitions for marijuana products intended for animal consumption. The Veterinary Medical Board would also be required to create guidelines for veterinarian cannabis recommendations.
AB 1014: This measure would amend state law to create additional, minimum security and transportation requirements for cannabis delivery services. It’s being sponsored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D).
🚨Action time! This THURS 8/11 is the Senate Appropriations hearing where Sen. Portantino will decide whether to advance the bill to eliminate THC testing for employees in CA.
— Melissa Moore (@mooremeliss) August 9, 2022
Here’s an overview of other recent drug policy developments in California:
Last month, California officials awarded more than $1.7 million in grants help promote sustainable marijuana cultivation practices and assist growers with obtaining their annual licenses. A total of $6 million will be allotted through the program, which was first announced in August 2021 and will remain open for applications through April 2023.
Regulators also recently announced that they are soliciting input on proposed rules to standardize cannabis testing methods in the state—an effort that they hope will stop marijuana businesses from “laboratory shopping” to find facilities that are more likely to show higher THC concentrations that they can then boast for their products.
Meanwhile, California officials are distributing another round of community reinvestment grants totaling $35.5 million with tax revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales.
The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced last month that they’ve awarded 78 grants to organizations throughout the state that will support economic and social development in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The amount of funding and number of recipients increased from last year’s levels, when the state awarded about $29 million in grants to 58 nonprofit organizations through the CalCRG program.
California has taken in nearly $4 billion in marijuana tax revenue since the state’s adult-use market launched in 2018, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported late last month. And for the first quarter of 2022, the state saw about $294 million in cannabis revenue generated from the excise, cultivation and sales tax on marijuana.
The state collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the last fiscal year. That represented 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the 2020-2021 period.
California officials also announced in January that the state had awarded $100 million in funding to help develop local marijuana markets, in part by getting cannabis businesses fully licensed.
This story was updated to correct errors in a prior version about the scope of the psychedelics legislation as approved.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert