steven-pahal-california

Calif. Senator Says Psychedelics Bill a Step Toward Decriminalizing All ‘Drugs’

A California senator sponsoring a bill to legalize possession of psychedelics says the proposal is another step toward the eventual decriminalization of all ‘drugs.’ Although he added it’s possible the broader reform will have to be decided by voters, “we want to get there,” Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener said in a recent meeting with activists and researchers.

The chat was hosted by the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC), and the discussion involved the next steps for his psychedelics legislation after the bill, SB-519, passed in the Senate earlier this month in California. He said moving the measure through the assembly will be “very challenging” due to a number of factors, but he sees progress in the legislature.

“This is the first time that this idea has ever been introduced in the legislature. It’s a brand new idea…many of my colleagues have never interacted with.”

state Sen. Scott Wiener

It’s also unclear where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom stands on the reform, Wiener said — though the governor has long been an outspoken opponent of the ‘war on drugs.’

“This is the first time that this idea has ever been introduced in the legislature,” Wiener said. “It’s a brand new idea…many of my colleagues have never interacted with.”

Language originally included record sealing and resentencing provisions for people previously convicted of psychedelics possession offenses was removed prior to the senate floor vote as part of an amendment from the sponsor.

The reasoning behind the deletion was the policy “ended up generating a huge price tag” based on a fiscal analysis, Wiener said. Adding, it could be addressed in separate legislation if the main bill passes.

Since clearing the Senate, the bill has been referred to two assembly committees — Public Safety and Health — but the clock is ticking to move it this session. The senator said it must be heard by the panels by July 15, and then it would go to the Appropriations Committee. They’d need to take action by late August at the latest

If it goes that far, Wiener told the PEAC members a floor vote in the assembly would happen in early September. Should the chamber approve it, the bill would go back to the Senate for concurrence — or agreement between the chambers — on any amendments or to Newsom’s desk. The governor would need to receive the bill by Sept. 10 and would have 30 days to act on it.

Assembly passage is hardly a given. There are “rivalries” and “tensions” between the two chambers, Wiener said, despite the fact they’re controlled by the same party.

Colleagues in the same chamber might be more willing to “give you a benefit of the doubt in helping you move forward bills,” he said.

What’s more, members in the Assembly go up for reelection more frequently than in the Senate, making them less inclined to back novel legislation like the psychedelics proposal.

The senator said one possible amendment that could be expected in the Assembly would be to remove ketamine from the list of psychedelics included in the reform.

“There are disagreements within the psychedelic world on it. It might come out. My view as you keep things in until you have to make a give, and that’s one that we could potentially give on. You don’t want to spontaneously give up on things without getting some ability to move the bill forward as a result.”

state Sen. Scott Wiener

Mescaline was specifically excluded from the bill’s reform provisions in peyote-derived form, but the possession of the compound would be allowed if it comes from other plants such as “the Bolivian Torch Cactus, San Pedro Cactus, or Peruvian Torch Cactus.” That decision was informed by native groups who have strongly pushed back against decriminalizing the cacti for conservationist reasons and because of its sacred value for their communities.

If enacted into law, the bill would remove criminal penalties for possessing or sharing numerous psychedelics — including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine, LSD and MDMA — for adults 21 and older.

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.”

Those recommendations would be due by Jan. 1, 2024.

For psilocybin specifically, the legislation would repeal provisions in California statutes prohibiting the cultivation or transportation of “any spores or mycelium capable of producing mushrooms or other material” which contain the psychoactive ingredient.

But this bill, Wiener emphasized at the beginning of the meeting, is ultimately an incremental step to ending the drug war.

“My view is we should be decriminalizing possession and use of all drugs — and we want to get there,” he said. “This is a step, just like cannabis [legalization] was a step. And ultimately we may need to go to the voters for broader drug decriminalization like Oregon.”

The senator encouraged PEAC members in San Francisco, California — where lawmakers are more amenable to psychedelics reform — to reach out to people in other areas of the state to apply pressure on their representatives.

Meanwhile, a group of California activists announced plans earlier this year to put an initiative to legalize the use and retail sale of psilocybin on the state’s 2022 ballot. That group, Decriminalize California, said 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.

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 since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.

This piece is a part of a content sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

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