California State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco joined Clubhouse’s thriving psychedelic community to give an update on decriminalization in California and describe the thought process that went into writing Senate Bill 519.
The bill would remove criminal penalties for possession for personal use and social sharing of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ketamine, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) for adults including for the purposes of group counseling and community-based healing, or other related services.
The bill will not impact laws on driving under the influence or employers’ workplace rights, and includes the language on what to do about minors and school zones
Sen. Wiener is a long-time progressive regularly leading the conversation on topics like affordable housing and creating a mechanism within the state’s tax structure to provide free medical cannabis to patients in need. He’s been eyeing this new decriminalization effort for a bit.
“I’ve been following some of the progress around psychedelics for a while, reading about it, and saw that some cities in California and elsewhere were taking steps to move towards a decriminalization model,” Sen. Wiener told the room.
And there has certainly been plenty to keep an eye on. Here in California, Oakland and Santa Cruz have both decriminalized the propagation of psychedelic plants and fungi. Cities in Michigan and Massachusetts joined the movement not long after. Then last year, Washington, D.C. voters brought the debate to the doorstep of Congress passing Initiative 81 with 76 percent of the vote. Then on February 1, Oregon became the first state to fully implement the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of all drugs.
Sen. Wiener believed it was time for California to jump into the discussion at the state level and he filed the bill.
“We just started the education process within the Legislature,” Sen. Wiener said. “So it’s been great getting to know folks who have been doing this work for a long time and getting to know the veterans who have benefited and also families, it’s been inspiring. It’s a hard bill only because it’s the first time this idea has ever been introduced in the California Legislature, so I have colleagues who have just not had a lot of exposure to it. And so we have to, you know, provide information, educate legislator by legislator. We’ve had success so far but you know we’re not guaranteed to get a pass this year and if we don’t, we’ll just keep trying.”
Right now, the bill is making its way through the State Senate’s committees for their stamp of approval with no grassroots opposition. But the final major test before the Senate floor will be appropriations. The main financial element of the bill comes in the expungement section. That process could possibly run into the 10s of millions of dollars. If it holds up the bill, it could be chopped off and approached as a separate bill on its own, Wiener explained.
“We are doing everything we can do to really provide information to the Senate leadership and to the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the members of that committee, you know, having meetings with our veterans who are just doing fantastic,” Sen. Wiener said of the outreach efforts. He also gave major props to Decriminalize Nature for the major input and effort they’ve put into the whole process.
After noting the great work being done by activists, Sen. Wiener went on to cover the challenges they are facing: “I think a lot of times when people hear about psychedelic decriminalization, they immediately go to every stereotype that they’ve had – from the 1960s and the psychedelic equivalent of reefer madness with LSD or think of Burning Man.”
Sen. Wiener quickly noted Burning Man is fantastic, but people who fear psychedelics don’t focus on the people who are benefiting in terms of mental health and substance use disorders. “And so we were really doing that advocacy now and trying to make the case to our leadership that this is a bill that makes a lot of sense. We shouldn’t be arresting people for possessing psychedelics. This affects real lives, real people who have been struggling, and whose lives are better because of these substances.”
The main concern to come from the audience on the bill centered around the exclusion of peyote. The Senator said that was honestly the hardest part of the bill because there are so many valid opinions on that particular subject. People were fearful of its inclusion leading to drug tourism that would further devastate an already endangered species. He also noted federal protection would still be recognized for Native American’s using peyote for religious purposes.
“And the good thing here is, things are only moving in our direction. I mean, all these new studies that are coming out and getting big headlines about MDMA and mushrooms and LSD or all these great studies that are getting headlines in the New York Times and other big publications,” Sen. Wiener said. “People see that, and they see that there’s great promise here so I think even hopefully it’ll happen this year but even if it doesn’t happen this year I think it will happen.”