Legalizing Magic Mushrooms Could Save California Taxpayers Millions of Dollars

Magic mushrooms might not be for everyone, but they could be good for California's budget.

A recent state analysis of a long-shot proposal to legalize the drug, known scientifically as psilocybin, concludes that it could reduce law enforcement costs by millions of dollars while padding state coffers by additional millions in taxes.

The news from the California Legislative Analyst's Office was welcome by organizers of the statewide proposal, known for now as the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative. "It's definitely encouraging," says Dimitric "Kitty" Merchant, co-author of the measure.

The measure proposes to decriminalize possession of magic mushrooms for Californians 21 and older. Under the bill's language, "possession, sale, transport and cultivation of psilocybin" would be legit in the Golden State. It doesn't cover potential retail sales, however.

The public comment period for the proposal ended last month, and organizers are hoping to see approved language for circulation any day now, Merchant said. Approved language would allow proponents to circulate petitions and gather signatures. If enough valid endorsements are obtained — it almost always takes a few million dollars in professional signature-gathering services to achieve success — Californians will get to vote on magic mushrooms next year. Organizers need about 365,880 valid voter endorsements.

The Legislative Analyst's Office determined that taxpayers could save significant cash on enforcement, prosecution and jail: "The measure would reduce costs to the state and local governments by reducing the number of psilocybin offenders incarcerated in state prison and county jail," according to the LAO's report on the proposal.

It also ventured that mushroom sales taxes could pad our pockets: "State and local governments could receive additional revenues, such as sales taxes from psilocybin sales permitted under this measure," the LAO's report states. "This is because many individuals who are currently purchasing psilocybin illegally could begin purchasing it legally under state law at businesses that collect sales taxes."

"This could save Californians millions of dollars," Merchant says.

Some experts, however, aren't so enthusiastic about unleashing psilocybin on the Golden State. UCLA psychiatrist Charles Grob, the first academic to receive federal approval to conduct research on psilocybin as a possible treatment of anxiety in adults with cancer, said previously that we could be playing with fire here.

"It can become dangerous very quickly," he said.

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