California Bid to Decriminalize Psilocybin Mushrooms in 2020 Gets a Boost

    Decriminalize California is a group operating an effort to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms throughout the Golden State by putting the question to voters on the November 2020 ballot. On November 18, it announced an important new partnership. It’s teaming up with the Beckley Foundation—a UK-based organization that funds and conducts psychedelic research to “drive evidence-based drug policy reform.”

    “[This is] a timely collaboration for California to expand its forward-thinking drug policies and further reduce unnecessary law enforcement and expenditure against harmless activities,” said Amanda Feilding, founder and director of the Beckley Foundation. “After years of rigorous scientific research demonstrating the safety and medical potential of psilocybin, and the recent decriminalization of psilocybin in Denver and Oakland, state-wide decriminalization is the next step in reforming drug policies to reflect scientific evidence. The time for change is now!”

    The Beckley Foundation “is supporting the campaign by providing strategic advice, contacts and help obtaining press coverage,” Zach Topley, Decriminalize California’s outreach director, elaborated to Filter. “The Foundation has played a key role in the drafting of the initiative, contributing, in particular, to provisions concerning therapeutic/medical research and treatment. The Foundation is also helping Decriminalize California to promote education and harm reduction practices relating to psilocybin.”

    Decriminalize California has been developing an “open-source” initiative; the current iteration is Version 4.3. The proposition would decriminalize personal use, possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms for Californians over 18.

    It goes further in proposing regulated, legal sales of mushrooms under the California Department of Agriculture and Department of Public Health. It would create legal psilocybin businesses subject to certain regulatory, licensing and safety standards. “This is very close to legalization,” Topley said, “however, without psilocybin being rescheduled or descheduled at the federal level, it seems more appropriate to refer to it as decriminalization.”

    Version 4.3 would also allow clinical psilocybin use by trained practitioners and scientific researchers. Psilocybin distributed for “religious, therapeutic or medical purposes” would be exempt from any taxes. Significantly, the plan provides for expungement and other post-conviction relief for those with psilocybin offenses, and resentencing for people currently incarcerated.

    From January 2020, Decriminalize California will have 180 days to collect at least 625,000 valid signatures.

    Individual cities and towns would be able vote to ban psilocybin businesses under the proposals—and given how many Californian jurisdictions have acted against legal cannabis businesses, some would no doubt pursue this option. 

    In January 2020, Decriminalize California will begin collecting signatures in support of its finalized initiative. Per state election laws, it will have 180 days to collect at least 625,000 valid signatures for its initiative to be certified for the November ballot. 

    It remains to be seen if the campaign will clear significant hurdles in the process. Version 4.3 is currently in a 30-day public comment period under the Office of the Attorney General, who may reject or challenge aspects of the initiative’s language. That would then force the campaign to make amendments and submit new language.

    Filter has reported previously on how the activists behind Decriminalize Denver struggled with exactly this issue in the early stages of their ultimately successful campaign. Topley said that Decriminalize California may consider moving forward with a narrower decriminalization measure if its current proposal is rejected.

    Once the final language is approved, gathering enough valid signatures may also be easier said than done. The signatures must all be verified by state officials before the initiative can make the ballot. In 2018, a similar California psilocybin decriminalization initiative failed to collect enough valid signatures.*

    But times are changing fast; 2019 is seeing numerous examples of city-level progress in psychedelic decriminalization, with California well represented. Oakland City Council voted earlier this year to decriminalize psilocybin, among other psychedelics. Similar campaigns are showing promise in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, as Filter has reported.

    “The only major challenge we face is raising sufficient funds,” Topley said. “If we have sufficient funds, there should be no issues in obtaining the minimum number of signatures within the official timeline.”

    If the campaign does overcome these initial obstacles, there are good omens. Californians have a history of supporting ballot initiatives to implement drug policy reforms, having legalized medical marijuana (Proposition 215 in 1996) and recreational marijuana (Proposition 64 in 2016) in this way.

    Decriminalize California plans to conduct voter opinion polling once the Attorney General approves a final initiative.


    *Correction, November 25: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that Decriminalize California was behind a similar 2018 initiative. Decriminalize California is in fact not affiliated with the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative, which ran the earlier campaign.

    Image by Matthijs B via Unsplash.

    • Alexander is Filter’s staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it’s actually alright. He’s also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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