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California Could Decriminalize Psychedelics Under New State And Local Proposals



Just one week after voters in Oregon and Washington, D.C. passed ballot measures to scale back outright prohibitions on psychedelics by wide margins, a California lawmaker says he’ll introduce a bill to decriminalize the substances in his state.

Activists in San Francisco, meanwhile, are separately pushing local officials to make laws against psychedelic plants and fungi the jurisdiction’s lowest law enforcement priority.

Sen. Scott Wiener (D) said Tuesday that he plans to introduce the statewide decriminalization bill in Sacramento once the legislature returns in early January. Language of the proposal has yet to be released, but Wiener described the reform in a Twitter thread as an “important step toward a more rational, science-based, and public-health-focused approach to drugs.”

Wiener, whose 11th Senate District includes San Francisco and portions of Mateo County, said he’s working on the state-level issue with Assemblymembers Sydney Kamlager (D) and Evan Low (D), who represent Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, respectively.

Kamlager on Tuesday said she’s eager “to realize this rational, pragmatic decriminalization of psychedelic drugs,” punctuating a tweet with the hashtag #TreatmentNotPrisons.

Last week two jurisdictions, Oregon and Washington, D.C., voted to remove criminal penalties for simple drug possession. The D.C. measure applies only to entheogenic plants and fungi, while Oregon’s initiative decriminalizes possession of any drug and funds expanded treatment services. Neither measure allows for the commercial production or sale of drugs. Meanwhile, a separate measure approved by Oregon voters legalizes psilocybin for therapeutic use.

Wiener indicated that California’s forthcoming decriminalization bill would apply only to psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Advocates in other states have also been inspired by last week’s successful drug reform ballot measures. In Washington State, activists last week doubled down on a plan to decriminalize drugs through the state Legislature.

Meanwhile, organizers in San Francisco are pushing for more local-level reforms. The group Decriminalize Nature, which has already led successful efforts to decriminalize plant-based psychedelics in Oakland, Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor, says it plans to push San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin to make similar changes there. Zack Ruskin at SF Weekly first reported the news on Monday.

A meeting with Boudin is scheduled for Thursday, Carlos Plazola, Decriminalize Nature’s national board chair, told Marijuana Moment.

The approach is slightly different than the one Decriminalize Nature took in nearby Oakland, Plazola explained. There, organizers pushed the City Council to adopt a decriminalization ordinance. In San Francisco, the group is pushing the DA to simply stop prosecuting cases.

“If the District Attorney announces that he won’t prosecute,” Plazola said, “it takes away the impetus to make arrests.”

Boudin won San Francisco’s DA race last year on a progressive platform, promising criminal justice reforms rather than a tough-on-crime approach. “In voting for this campaign, the residents of San Francisco have demanded radical change and rejected calls to go back to the tough-on-crime era that did not make us safer and destroyed the lives of thousands of San Franciscans,” he told The Washington Post after being elected last November.

Decriminalize Nature backed the Washington, D.C., voter initiative to legalize entheogenic substances, which passed last week with more than three-quarters of the vote.

Plazola said the group is actively working on local measures in Florida, Michigan and Baltimore, and activists in more than 100 cities have expressed interest in enacting similar reforms.

Activists in California sought to place a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s 2020 ballot, but signature gathering activities were impeded by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing measures, and they did not succeed.

Behind the decriminalization measures emerging across the country is a growing sense that the decades-long war on drugs has failed. Criminal penalties haven’t meaningfully reduced drug use or overdose deaths, advocates say, and the consequences of a conviction can be lifelong. Even a single drug-related arrest can limit housing, school and employment options, as well as access to public benefits. Enforcement has disproportionately targeted Black and Indiginous people, communities of color and other marginalized groups.

“Arresting people for drugs is simply inhumane.” Peter Zuckerman, campaign manager for Oregon’s recently passed drug decriminalization initiative, said during a press conference last week about neighboring Washington State’s new decriminalization push. “Permanent criminal records can stop people from getting jobs, from getting housing, from getting professional licenses. It can stop them from going to school and getting student loans.”

The reason reform passed in Oregon is likely to fuel efforts elsewhere, Zuckerman added: “The current approach to drugs is failing.”

Across the country last week, voters approved every major drug reform measure put before them, including marijuana measures in five states and broader drug reforms in Oregon and Washington, D.C.

Congress Will Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Next Month, House Leadership Announces

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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