California’s Evolving Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelics

    A California lawmaker continues working on an effort to decriminalize and legalize psychedelics in California, having already tried twice in the last couple years. If third time’s a charm, Californians will be able to possess and use certain psychedelics without fear of criminalization—potentially alongside a regulated system of psychedelic healing services.

    California would become by far the biggest jurisdiction, by population, to take such steps. It would be a watershed moment for the psychedelic movement. But lawmakers have been amending the bill in ways that limit how much it protects psychedelic users.

    In December, state Senator Scott Wiener (D) introduced Senate Bill 58, which would decriminalize “certain hallucinogenic substances.” It would remove criminal penalties from “possession, preparation, obtaining, transfer, as specified, or transportation of” psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline for personal use by adults. Possession of psychedelics on school grounds or by people under 21 would still be subject to penalties.

    The bill has made steady progress this year. The next major hurdle is a full Assembly vote, after which it could proceed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.

    SB58 also requires that the state create a working group to study and recommend how California could allow “therapeutic” use, including “facilitated or supported” use. A report would be due January 1, 2025. The group would be responsible for studying regulatory frameworks concerning areas like production and distribution, product marketing and safety, and professional training and credentialing. Adopting such models could ultimately see California legalizing psychedelics for healing purposes, like Oregon and Colorado.

    At this point we don’t know would this would look like in practice. Would California protect all people working with psychedelics, above and underground, licensed or not? Or would it restrict psychedelics to licensed and regulated settings, which would be sure to make them more far more expensive?

    “It’s going to be different from Oregon,” Jesse Gould, founder and president of the Heroic Hearts Project, told Filter. His organization, representing veterans who want access to psychedelic therapy, is supporting SB58.

    “From the get-go, [Oregon] already had the end goal to have essentially clinical access of psilocybin,” he said. “That notion didn’t seem viable in California, just given where the state’s at and various politicians’ comfortability with it.”

    However, “if we have good test cases in Oregon and eventually Colorado, down the line I don’t see why those models won’t be adapted by a lot of states,” Gould added. “If you look at the research and where this is going, it’s clear psychedelics are going to have a presence in the US for treating mental health.”

    The bill has made steady progress so far this year. It passed the Senate Public Safety Committee in March, and passed a full Senate vote on May 24, with 21-16 support. Next, in the lower chamber, it passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee on June 27 and the Assembly Health Committee on July 11. The next major hurdle is a full Assembly vote, after which it could proceed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.


    Lawmakers Stripped It Down

    Sen. Wiener first proposed this idea back in 2021, and the legislation lawmakers are currently considering has important differences from his original bill. The first version proposed decriminalizing a wider range of substances—including synthetic psychedelics like LSD, MDMA and ketamine. It also set no possession limits, and allowed for sharing and gifting among adults.

    That version passed a Senate vote in 2021. But Wiener felt he didn’t have the votes to get it through the lower chamber, so decided to hold the bill to buy more time for lobbying.

    He reintroduced it in 2022, but this time without any protections for ketamine and with possession limits for the drugs that remained. This version protected “facilitated or supported use,” allowing people to use these drugs in groups. People could have charged fees for providing support or guidance.

    But it was not to be: Lawmakers ultimately gutted the legislation, removing the decriminalization provisions and reducing it to just the creation of a psychedelic study group. Wiener once again decided to pull the bill, setting the stage for SB58: his third attempt.

    “We made this new bill more streamlined, to where we wouldn’t meet the same resistance we did originally.”

    Now cutting LSD and MDMA entirely, this latest version provides for “allowable amounts” of 2 grams of DMT, 15 grams of ibogaine, 2 grams of psilocybin/psilocin (or 4 ounces of mushrooms), and 4 grams of mescaline. The bill would also decriminalize mescaline cacti like the San Pedro or Peruvian blowtorch cactus, but exclude the peyote cactus (which remains a controversial subject), consistent with past versionsl.

    “Some of the big changes were just the reaction or response we got [from lawmakers] from the original bill,” Gould said. “We learned from that and made this new bill more streamlined, to where we wouldn’t meet the same resistance we did originally. There’s always a difference between what different people consider a perfect bill versus what is possible and what are good next steps.”

    The other major change is in how the current bill treats “facilitated or supported” use of psychedelics: Now, only after the legislature creates rules (with input from the study group) would state law allow people to supervise or assist others using psychedelics “within the context of spiritual guidance, community-based healing, or related services,” and without financial gain. While people could not charge money for drugs themselves, they could be reimbursed at “reasonable fees for spiritual guidance or related services.”

    If you imagine a group of friends who want to stay safe while tripping on mushrooms together, they might ask another friend or family member to simply watch over them and make sure no one is harmed. Now, imagine someone who does this often enough that they decide to offer it as a valuable service, and maybe even hosts people using mushrooms in their own home. They might want to charge clients a fee for their time and the space provided. Others might supervise or guide people using psychedelics as part of a spiritual or religious ceremony.

    Decriminalization in California would have outsize influence. Partly because of that, advocates should pay close attention to how much the final bill protects psychedelic users  and fosters equitable access.

    All of these might fall under the category of “facilitated or supported” use, and could gain some protections under Wiener’s bill—but only assuming lawmakers come back in the future and create rules, as allowed for by the provisions. Potential issues include how clients could hold trip guides accountable for any harassment or abuse, and exactly what services guides could charge for that wouldn’t be considered to bring “financial gain.” Lawmakers would also need to decide if such activities could remain informal or would require a license.

    Gould explained that the earlier provisions about facilitated psychedelic use were likely to cause some lawmakers to oppose the bill, which is likely why the Public Health Committee amended it to delay when those would take effect. “That one’s been changed just because there is still some hesitation about [it, and] let’s figure a lot of this stuff out before we get to that. Down the line it’s still on the table but for now it’s been changed.”

    We don’t yet know the fate of this bill. It is currently being re-read by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and Gould estimates that a full Assembly vote could happen this month.

    Decriminalization in California would be hugely significant, with outsize influence far beyond the state’s borders. But partly because of that, advocates should pay close attention to how much the final bill will protect psychedelic users and their practices, and foster equitable access.


    Photograph via Washington Senate Democrats

    • 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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