May 24, 2023 Kyle Jaeger
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A California bill to legalize the possession of certain psychedelics and facilitated use of the substances has passed the Senate.
The legislation from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) was approved on the floor in a vote of 21-16 on Wednesday and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.
The measure, which is a more narrowly tailored version of a bill that Wiener led last session that passed the Senate but was later abandoned in the Assembly after members watered it down significantly, has advanced under an accelerated process that allowed it to skip some committee consideration this year. It cleared the Appropriations Committee without a hearing earlier this month and was previously approved by the Public Safety Committee in March.
SB 58 would legalize the “possession, preparation, obtaining, transfer, as specified, or transportation of” specific amounts of psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline for personal or facilitated use. Notably, “synthetic” psychedelics like LSD and MDMA would not be legalized, unlike the provisions of the previous version of Wiener’s legislation.
Beside personal possession being legalized, the bill would also specifically provide for “group counseling and community-based healing” involving the entheogenic substances.
“This is a tremendously hopeful step for veterans and all those who wish to benefit from psychedelics to heal from PTSD, anxiety, and depression, or simply to improve their well-being,” Wiener said in a press release on Wednesday. “We came extremely close to decriminalizing these promising treatments in the last legislative session, and after deep engagement with stakeholders, we made changes to limit our proposal to naturally occurring substances and retain quantity limits to ensure these five naturally-occurring substances are for personal use only.”
“We shouldn’t be criminalizing people for personal use of these non-addictive substances. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Assembly to provide relief for the suffering of so many,” he said.
The bill would also repeal state law prohibiting “any spores or mycelium capable of producing mushrooms or other material which contain psilocybin or psilocyn.” The state ban on drug paraphernalia for the covered substances would also be eliminated under the legislation.
In addition to having to formally clear the Appropriations Committee last session, the prior version of Wiener’s bill also needed to go before two policy committees—Public Safety and Health—whereas this year’s measure only needed to be heard in the former panel, further highlighting its expedited path to the floor this time.
The bill contains at least two key changes from the measure that advanced last session.
First, is excludes synthetic psychedelics like LSD and MDMA from the list of substances that would be legalized and focuses only on those that are derived from plants or fungi.
When the prior version of the legislation was in jeopardy near the end of the 2022 session, Wiener sought to make a deal to save it by removing synthetics in an attempt to shift law enforcement organizations from being opposed to neutral on the bill. That move was opposed by advocates and ultimately did not produce a passable proposal.
Peyote is also excluded from the bill’s legalized substances list, which is responsive to concerns raised by some advocates and indigenous groups about the risks of over-harvesting the vulnerable cacti that’s been ceremonially used.
Under the second major change to the bill from last year’s version, it no longer includes a provision mandating a study to explore future reforms. The senator had said that the study language was unnecessary given the high volume of research that’s already been done and continues to be conducted.
The “allowable amount” section of the bill prescribes the following psychedelics possession limits:
Psilocybin—2 grams, or up to 4 ounces of “a plant or fungi containing psilocybin”
Psilocyn—2 grams, or up to 4 ounces of “a plant or fungi containing psilocyn.”
When the earlier version was moving through the legislature, it was gutted in a key Assembly committee to only require the study, eliminating the legalization provisions altogether. Wiener responded by shelving the legislation and holding it for 2023.
Meanwhile, a separate bill from Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R) was introduced in February to legalize psychedelics-assisted therapy for military veterans.
Specifically, it would allow licensed clinical counselors to administer controlled substances—including but not limited to psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, ketamine and ibogaine—to veterans for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury or addiction.
People who receive the treatment would need to go through a minimum of 30 sessions each lasting at least 12 hours, with at least two two counselors present for each session.
Advocates are optimistic about the prospect of Wiener’s psychedelics legalization bill this round. Not only have California lawmakers had more time to consider the proposal since its original introduction, but there’s significantly more momentum behind psychedelics reform this session as lawmakers in states across the country across the country work to tackle the issue.
For example, the Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill this week to create a regulatory framework for legal psychedelics under a voter-approved initiative.
Minnesota lawmakers recently passed an omnibus health bill that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
This month, a North Carolina House committee approved a bill to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.
A Washington State bill to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment was signed by the governor.
A Nevada Senate committee approved a revised bill last month that would create a new working group to study psychedelics and develop a plan to allow regulated access for therapeutic purposes.
The Hawaii Senate approved a bill last month to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
A national poll published in March found that a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA.