The sudden collapse of a California bill to decriminalize possession of psychedelics is a major setback for advocates, but they anticipate its reintroduction in 2023.
Senate Bill 519 would have permitted possession and gifting of small quantities of seven psychedelics for people over 21: psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, ibogaine, mescaline (not including peyote), LSD and MDMA. It also would have created a working group to study the potential impact of further reforms. But when the bill passed through a legislative committee on its way to the Assembly floor, all that emerged was the study—the bill was approved, yet the actual reforms had been edited out.
SB 519 came before the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 11. Even Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, wasn’t clear on its condition in the hours after it was approved, due to a somewhat cryptic announcement from the Committee while the text still wasn’t available to check. On August 12, Wiener announced that he was pulling the bill rather than pass it as just a study. It will likely be reintroduced in 2023.
The updated legislative text, which was published August 15, showed that even the study wasn’t left unscathed. The amended text split it into two studies, dragged out the final submission deadline by another year, and mandated that the group convened to do it should include members of law enforcement.
“I am looking forward to reintroducing this legislation next year. We are not giving up.”
That addition would fit the larger pattern of SB 519’s struggle to reach the floor over the past two years. With time running out in the current legislative session, Wiener tried a Hail Mary by cutting a deal with police chiefs to strike synthetic psychedelics—in this case, LSD and MDMA—from the bill, as Marijuana Moment reported.
LSD in particular has been singled out by opposition that includes state law enforcement, who misrepresent it as something that tends to increase violence—despite evidence it’s more likely to decrease it. However, a bill limited to plant-based psychedelics would be a sufficient starting point for Wiener.
“I am looking forward to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs,” Sen. Wiener stated. “We are not giving up.”
Brad Burge, founder of Integration Communications, a PR firm with a psychedelic science specialization, struck a similarly optimistic note. “Even when bills aren’t successful, they will create ripple effects that will result in sweeping policy and cultural change,” Burge, who has worked with certain psychedelic advocacy organizations that supported SB 519, told Filter.
“There will be more people in jail for psychedelics, and that’s even while we see decriminalization in some jurisdictions.”
In the meantime, Californians remain at risk of arrest and incarceration for using these substances, with potential lifetime discrimination related to lost housing, employment and education opportunities. Criminalization of psychedelics is on a smaller scale compared to more stigmatized drugs like opioids, heroin or methamphetamine—but any drug arrest is an injustice.
“There will be more people in jail for psychedelics, and that’s even while we see … decriminalization in some jurisdictions,” Burge said.
There’s reason to think that when Sen. Wiener reintroduces the bill in 2023, political conditions may be more favorable.
In November, Colorado could legalize psilocybin and psilocyn for therapeutic use by adults over 21. After one of two competing ballot initiatives gathered enough signatures by the August 8 deadline, voters will decide whether to enact a legal framework for psychedelic mental health treatment in state-licensed facilities. If they do, that framework could be extended to DMT, ibogaine and mescaline in 2026. The ballot initiative would also decriminalize possession and gifting for psilocybin and psilocyn across the state.
Meanwhile, the Oregon psilocybin legalization measure on which Colorado’s was modeled will take effect in 2023, with the first treatment centers expected to open in January. However, a number of Oregon counties are in the process of adding counterinitiatives to their November ballots, which if enacted would either ban the centers or impose two-year moratoriums.
“Whatever happens with psychedelics,” Burge said, “there needs to be a regulatory and support system as far as education, harm reduction, accountability, the training of providers and psychedelic therapists … to ensure the greatest possible safety and effectiveness of psychedelics once they become more widely available.”
Photograph via United States Drug Enforcement Administration