A bill that would decriminalize pretty much every psychedelic drug that’s not on the vulnerable species list passed the California State Senate on Tuesday.
SB 519 would make it lawful to possess psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ketamine, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) for personal use if you’re over the age of 21. It progressed through the Senate’s committees since February before securing yesterday’s 21-16 victory.
The victory comes almost two years to the day since Oakland moved to decriminalize psychedelics in early June of 2019.
The bill was championed by California State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco and co-authors Senators Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-San Jose) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).
“Psychedelics show great promise in helping people deal with complex trauma, depression, anxiety and addiction,” said Wiener after the bill cleared the Senate. “It makes no sense to criminalize the use of psychedelics. The War on Drugs has failed us, and criminalizing these substances doesn’t make anyone safer. It’s time to move away from failed drug criminalization policies and toward a science- and health-based approach. SB 519 passing the California Senate is a huge milestone for this legislation, and I am thrilled that more and more people are seeing the benefits of decriminalizing psychedelics.”
Wiener’s office cited various data to back the senator’s take. This included the current FDA research around MDMA as a breakthrough therapy, two different clinical trials where psilocybin was shown to reduce symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant depression, and a John Hopkins study where psilocybin was shown to decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients.
When Wiener took part in a Clubhouse town hall on the bill last month, he noted things looked good but said it was unfortunate that the expungement language was removed due to financial reasons. While the bill is a fantastic step, it would have been pretty cool to see key parts of Section 11356.8 make the cut.
“A person currently serving a sentence for a conviction, whether by trial or by open or negotiated plea, who would not have been guilty under Section 11350.1 or 11402 had those sections been in effect at the time of the offense may petition for a recall or dismissal of sentence before the trial court that entered the judgment of conviction in the case to request resentencing or dismissal in accordance with those sections.”
This would have had a major impact on getting people out of jail for the possession of drugs that look to be on the verge of decriminalization. We’ve seen a lot of family reunification stories in cannabis over the past few years – it will be nice to see the trend move on to psychedelic offenders serving a victimless crime. Nevertheless, the victory yesterday was a major step towards that goal. And even when Wiener foreshadowed the problems, he noted he could do something separately to address the expungement issue later.
Last month, when discussing the bill, Wiener pointed out that how to handle peyote was arguably the most difficult part of the formation of the bill. He found all the people on both sides of the argument had a lot of valid points. In the end, it was not included to prevent putting the species at further risk of moving from the vulnerable to endangered species list due to drug tourism. Additionally, Native American religious practitioners are already protected by federal law, so they’re covered if they want to use it.
Following the bill’s victory, we spoke with Carlos Plazola, Executive Director of Decriminalize Nature, and Larry Norris who is also working on the campaign. Additionally, Norris separately serves as Executive Director and Co-Founder of ERIE (Entheogenic Research Integration & Education). The pair’s efforts were heavily credited by Wiener last month in addition to the work being done by veterans.
“It’s great. We’re excited,” Plazola told L.A. Weekly, “I think that the first it’s a big win for California but we think also it’s a big win for the U.S. because I think from here we build on California. We just keep going east to get more and more decriminalization happening in other states. We’re optimistic about what’s going to happen in the assembly and we’re hopeful that the governor is in a position to be able to sign it by any year, so we’re excited.”
We asked the pair if they thought the Senate would always be the more challenging than the Assembly. They both quickly replied in the affirmative.
“Oh yeah, hands down,” Plazola said, “It’s more conservative in the Senate, I believe.”
As for the biggest surprises since February?
“I think the surprises that we had is just that we’ve had a lot of really good responses from the elected officials on this topic. That’s been pretty surprising, even though there has been some testimony for it. There has been a lot of openness to learning about what this is all about. I think as a bill we’re really excited about the fact that it includes the entheogenic plants and fungi which is what we’re focused on in terms of decriminalized nature.”
Norris was also glad to see it includes the grow and gift model. He believes this will allow equitable access.
“So we’re really excited to have those in there, and as Carlos said, this is really setting a model for the rest of the U.S. and it’s about looking to California on how to push legislation forward in their own states, so it’s really exciting here,” Norris added.
We asked the pair if they found the exclusion of peyote reasonable since the bill did cover a lot.
“No, we understand why Senator wiener had to make the decision that he made about removing peyote,” Plazola replied, “We’re still pursuing and will continue to pursue the decriminalization of cultivation of peyote. And that’s just because right now we have no solution, no one has presented a viable solution to prevent the depletion of peyote in the endemic habitat of Mexico.”
Plazola said various indigenous groups south of the border are seeing their peyote being depleted at incredible numbers.
“Most of it is coming to the US for use by the Native American church,” Plazola said, “So our solution is to decriminalize the cultivation of peyote.”
But he’s happy with everything else?
“Extremely. No, we’re very happy, very grateful,” Plazola replied.
The pair noted in closing that if you want to take part in the continuing grassroots effort to pass the bill in the Assembly reach out to Decriminalize Nature.