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Gov. Newsom to Decide Fate of “Magic Mushroom” Decriminalization Bill in October

By LawCommentary | Posted on September 14, 2023

Photo Source: CalMatters via Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

Photo Source: CalMatters via Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

When Timothy Leary and other pioneers of the psychedelic counterculture of the 1960s wrote about magic mushrooms and other mind-bending drugs, few people would have believed that many of them could actually become legal, albeit 50 years later. Some forms of plant-based psychedelics are already sold in Colorado, Oregon and several California cities, and a bill to legalize them throughout the Golden State has now passed the California Senate and is headed for Governor Newsom’s desk.

SB 58, a bill to decriminalize certain hallucinogenic substances, was introduced by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), and passed the California Senate on September 11 by a vote of 21 to 14, with opposition from several Democrats, after having passed the Assembly 43-15. According to a press release from Weiner’s office, the bill “removes criminal penalties for the personal possession (by persons over 21), and use of a limited set of naturally occurring psychedelics.” These include psilocybin and psilocin (mushrooms), Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that makes the plant-based psychedelic ayahuasca brew, and mescaline from the San Pedro cactus (excluding peyote). If signed, the bill would go into effect on January 1, 2025.

The bill decriminalizes the use of these substances for “noncommercial, personal use” and directs California’s health and human services agencies to create a working group to make specific recommendations about the therapeutic use of the newly legal substances before the bill goes into effect. It also would allow the state’s residents to “plant and harvest an allowable amount” of up to four grams of mescaline, one gram of DMT, and one gram or one ounce of the newly legal mushrooms.

According to The Intercept, Newsom has not said whether he will sign the bill, which must be approved or vetoed by October 14, but notes “he has mostly been a critic against the war on drugs, having been a leading voice to legalize cannabis in California and reduce nonviolent offenses like drug crimes to misdemeanors, rather than felonies.” Spokespersons from the governor’s office told the media that “he doesn’t typically comment on pending legislation…The governor will evaluate the bill on its merits when it reaches his desk.”

The bill is of particular interest to veterans and others who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because plant-based psychedelics are not addictive and according to Weiner, “show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis.” Weiner notes that he has been consulting with law enforcement groups and medical experts about legalization for three years and that his bill includes “appropriate safeguards.”

These safeguards include making it a misdemeanor for adults to possess psychedelics on school grounds and include fines or possible prison for knowingly giving the substances to minors.

The text of SB 58 begins with an introduction that explains the “War on Drugs” has caused overwhelming financial and societal costs which do not “reflect a modern understanding of the incentives, economics, or impacts or substance abuse, nor does it accurately reflect the risks or potential therapeutic benefits of many presently illicit substances.” It then states that prohibiting drugs does not deter drug use and has “created an underground market in which difficult-to-verify dosages and the presence of adulterants increase the risks of illicit drugs.”

SB 58 touts the need for “honest, evidence-based drug education” that reflects the findings of clinical research, including the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. The Center, which has been studying the safety and “enduring positive effects” of psilocybin and other psychedelics since 2000, has published over 150 peer-reviewed articles about their findings in “respected scientific journals.”

The positive effects of psychedelics, promoted by Weiner, were echoed by Jesse Gould, founder of the Heroic Hearts Project, a group of veterans who are now forced “to make the choice between saving their own life or becoming a criminal in the eyes of their country.” Gould, a former army ranger, has said psychedelics helped him with PTSD when he returned from Afghanistan when “other interventions didn’t work.” He told the Los Angeles Times, “We just came out of 20 years of war. There’s clearly a mental health issue.”

Weiner’s latest version of SB 58 removed some other controversial drugs from earlier versions, which also would have decriminalized ecstasy, LSD, and ibogaine. While removing these drugs from decriminalization, he added them to a group of drugs that should be studied. The Times wrote that these changes are responsible for gaining the votes of several Republican senators.

But the newest version of the bill headed for Newsom’s desk has opponents as well as supporters. One mother told the Times about the death of her 16-year-old son who took mushrooms and “ran off her deck thinking he could fly.” She believes the bill “fails to include the necessary education, research and training for first responders.”

Newsom has until mid-October to sign or reject SB 58 along with hundreds of other bills. Veterans and other supporters believe California’s decision could help transform mental health care and bring the war on drugs into the reality of the 21st Century.

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