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California Bill To Decriminalize Psychedelics Moves Forward: Legislation's Sponsor Talks 'Learning Curve,' Why MDMA, LSD Are Included

April 19, 2021 10:20 am
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California Bill To Decriminalize Psychedelics Moves Forward: Legislation's Sponsor Talks 'Learning Curve,' Why MDMA, LSD Are Included

A bill to decriminalize psychedelic substances in California is quickly moving up the legislative ladder.

Introduced in February by Sen. Scott Wiener, SB 519 would remove penalties for the possession, personal use and social sharing of certain natural and synthetic psychoactive drugs including psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, LSD, ketamine and MDMA.

The legislation would also expunge the criminal records of those charged with low-level psychedelics convictions.

“I don't think that arresting someone for possessing drugs is in any way helpful,” Wiener told Benzinga.

The San Francisco Democrat is in favor of full drug decriminalization and said this measure is a first step toward that goal.

“Until we get there, we know that psychedelics have huge promise in treating mental health and addiction problems, and so we want to stop criminalizing people for using these substances, whether it's for a spiritual or recreational use or for a health issue.”

The bill passed both the Public Safety and Health Committees and will now be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, after which it would move to Senate floor vote if approved.

Beyond Natural Psychedelics

Most jurisdictions that have passed psychedelics decriminalization laws so far focus on the use of naturally occurring psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms or ayahuasca.

In the case of the California bill, LSD and MDMA are included among the decriminalization candidates.

These drugs were added because of their potential in treating mental health disorders, Wiener said. 

“MDMA has huge potential in terms of health benefits. It's considered a potential breakthrough drug by the FDA. LSD also has significant benefits, so we didn’t want to leave them out.” 

GHB, a synthetic drug also known as Liquid E, was not included in the bill. 

What Happens If The Psychedelics Bill Passes?

If Wiener's legislation becomes law, he said it would still be illegal to sell the psychedelics in California, adding that the bill does not legalize the drugs in a regulatory manner. 

“What it does is, it sets up a working group to evaluate whether to fully legalize and regulate psychedelics in the future, and the working group will make a recommendation to the legislature.”

The bill would also remove criminal records for convictions.

“We don’t have the best data on convictions, though we know there have been plenty. And so people who have a criminal record because of psychedelics will be able to have those cases expunged, and people who are currently serving a sentence for psychedelics will be able to get their case dismissed,” the state senator said. 

The working group could make recommendations for the creation of a licensed medical program focused on the use of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting, he said. 

Will The Decriminalization Bill Become Law?

Hawaii State Sen. Stanley Chang, who introduced a bill to decriminalize psilocybin in the island state, said in a recent conversation that he views legislative action as a way to propel a conversation around psychedelics — though he does not expect his bill to pass in its first iteration.

“A big part of the legislative process is not just actually passing a bill, but taking part in a community discussion about what the issues are, what the priorities should be," said Chang.

Wiener sounds more optimistic, though he said the bill might not pass on the first try. 

“I think the bill has a chance,” said Wiener.

Psychedelics reform is a topic that needs to undergo an extensive public and political conversation before it can become a reality, he said. 

“This idea has never been introduced in the legislature before, so for many of my colleagues, this is the first time that they're seeing it. So there's a lot of education and a learning curve, and so we may not be able to pass it this year, but if not this year we'll keep trying. I think it’s an important issue and I’m committed to it.” 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office told Benzinga that Newsom does not typically comment on pending legislation when asked for his position on the bill. 

Wiener said he doesn't know the governor’s position either.

“If and when a bill reaches the governor’s desk, it will be evaluated on its merits,” said a spokesperson for Newsom’s office.

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