Soon, possessing small quantities of psychedelics like shrooms and LSD may no longer be criminal in the Golden State.
(CN) — A bill to decriminalize psychedelics in California passed an Assembly committee Tuesday, meaning that if passed and signed by the governor, the personal possession of a suite of psychoactive drugs prohibited by federal law will not lead to criminal penalties.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday advanced Senate Bill 519, would also convene a working group to study whether legalization of certain substances is warranted and how best to regulate them should legalization occur.
SB 519 author state Senator Scott Weiner, a Democrat from San Francisco, told his colleagues that the war on drugs has been a failure and that incarcerating people for possession of a class of drugs that are relatively harmless compared to other controlled substances was poor public policy.
“Do we believe we should be arresting someone for possession of psychedelics for personal use?” Weiner asked the committee. “I don’t think we should, and frankly, I don’t think most people think this is something we should be doing.”
Jesse Gould, the founder of the Heroic Hearts Project, described how his post-traumatic stress disorder after three combat missions nearly killed him, but a treatment that used various psychedelic drugs saved his life.
“I was barely holding on and I turned to psychedelics as a last-ditch effort to survive,” he said. “Fortunately, it worked very well.”
Dr. Robert Grant with the University of California, San Francisco, noted the medical research institution will open a psychedelic research center in August and that many people have found the drugs to help combat mental health issues such as clinical depression, eating disorders and drug addiction.
“People should not be incarcerated for seeking a healing path provided by these medications,” Grant said.
But others say decriminalization of psychedelic drugs sends the wrong message to children and will make it easier for dangerous drugs to get into the hands of minors.
“Depression should be treated under the watchful eyes of a physician,” said Assembly member Kelly Seyarto, a Republican from La Puente.
He said the Federal Drug Administration should reschedule the drug and regulate appropriately if the benefits for a certain class of individuals are proven. But absent federal approval, the state has no business legalizing a drug that has caused harm to some users.
But Weiner said psychedelic drugs are not addictive and actually help drug users beat their addictions to the more pernicious set of substances.
“We have to acknowledge not every substance is harmful just because the federal government said so 100 years or 50 years ago,” he said.
But others argued psychedelics are harmful.
John Lovell, a police officer who testified against the bill, said LSD could cause mental impairment and a phenomenon called “flashbacks” where the experience of “tripping” can come back without warning.
Tom Lackey, another Republican Assembly member, said he personally knew people and families who were detrimentally impacted by the drugs.
“I have seen the other side of these drugs and it is heartbreaking,” he said.
But Weiner contended the main provision of the bill was to investigate whether the current approach to the criminalization of drugs was working.
“We can’t arrest our way out of these problems,” he said, adding that drug use is a health issue and not best suited for the criminal justice system.
Democrat Buffy Wicks said it was typically kids of color who were being arrested and put on the path of incarceration for these drugs.
“We need to relook at the war on drugs and what it actually means and how it impacts people’s lives,” she said.
The bill would only decriminalize the possession of psychedelics in the state, not their sale. However, a group called Decriminalize California has announced plans to place an initiative to legalize the sale of psilocybin mushrooms on the 2022 ballot.
Wiener’s legislation initially proposed revisiting the sentences of those convicted for possession of psychedelics while sealing criminal records, but that provision was removed in committee. The bill would task the California Department of Public Health with creating a working group to explore the possible legalization and use of psychedelics in certain contexts.
The legislation would also repeal provisions in the California criminal code that prohibit the cultivation and transportation of spores of mushrooms associated with the psychoactive ingredient. The bill excludes mescalin due to the endangered status of peyote and the importance the drug has for many Native American communities in California and throughout the Southwest.
Oregon became the first state to legalize psychedelic mushrooms for use in therapy and also decriminalized possession of a small amount of all drugs in two ballot measures approved by voters in the November 2020 election.
In California, Santa Cruz and Oakland have passed ordinances that decriminalize the personal use of psychedelics.
Denver, Colorado, became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019. Three cities in Massachusetts have followed suit.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Washington D.C. have legalized the personal use of plant- or fungi-based psychedelics.
The movement is not restricted to progressive enclaves. The Texas Legislature, one of the more fiercely conservative lawmaking bodies in the country, recently formed a committee to study whether “magic mushrooms” could help veterans recover from the trauma of their war experiences.