A bill to decriminalize psychedelics in California and create a working group to study broader reform advanced through a Senate committee on Tuesday. The panel also approved separate legislation to allow communities in the state to temporarily open safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.
The Senate Public Safety Committee approved the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), by a vote of 4-1. If enacted into law, it would remove criminal penalties for possessing or sharing a wide range of psychedelics—including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine, LSD and MDMA—for adults 21 and older.
The measure would also provide for the expungements of prior convictions for offenses that it makes lawful.
The state Department of Public Health would be required to establish a working group “to study and make recommendations regarding possible regulatory systems that California could adopt to promote safe and equitable access to certain substances in permitted legal contexts,” according to the bill text. Those recommendations would be due by January 1, 2024.
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The bill has undergone several revisions since being introduced in February. Some changes are technical in nature, while others are more substantive, including one that would align state laws on CBD and psychedelics with federal statute if the substances are removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
Another expands the definition of drug paraphernalia used in connection with psychedelics that would no longer carry criminal penalties if possessed by adults.
For psilocybin, the legislation would repeal provisions in California statute that prohibit the cultivation or transportation of “any spores or mycelium capable of producing mushrooms or other material” that contain the psychoactive ingredient.
Mescaline derived from peyote is specifically excluded from the bill’s reform provisions “because of the nearly endangered status of the peyote plant and the special significance peyote holds in Native American spirituality.”
While the bill is being described by lawmakers and advocates as simple “decriminalization,” the official legislative analysis of the proposal states that it would “make lawful” the personal possession and social sharing of these substances.
Our legislation to decriminalize psychedelics (#SB519) just passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-1 vote.
Psychedelics have so much promise for people’s health & well-being. We need to move away from a drug criminalization model & toward a health approach. pic.twitter.com/DRmmU2Plbk
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) April 6, 2021
Meanwhile, a group of California activists recently announced plans to put an initiative to legalize the use and retail sale of psilocybin on the state’s 2022 ballot. That group, Decriminalize California, said that it would first work to convince lawmakers to pursue reform and then take the issue directly to the people if the legislature fails to act.
With the Public Safety Committee’s approval, the legislation next heads to the Senate Health Committee.
The separate safe consumption sites bill that was approved by the panel would allow the city and county of San Francisco, the county of Los Angeles and the city of Oakland to operate the facilities as pilot programs until 2027. Advocates say allowing people to use drugs in the presence of medical professionals will reduce overdose deaths and also provide a path to accessing treatment and other services for those who want them.
The psychedelics effort in the California legislature, which Wiener first previewed back in November, comes as activists are stepping up the push to enact psychedelics reform locally in cities in the state and across the country. The bill notes those efforts in an explanation of the proposal.
The Northampton, Massachusetts City Council passed a resolution last week to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. It’s the third city in the state to advance the policy change, following Somerville and Cambridge.
These are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread rapidly since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.
In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and more broadly decriminalize possession of all drugs.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”