Today, Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) office announced the reintroduction of legislation to decriminalize psychedelics via SB 58. The bill aims to decriminalize the possession and personal use of certain psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin, psilocin, dimethyltryptamine (“DMT”), mescaline (excluding peyote), and ibogaine.
The new legislation comes four months after the Assembly Appropriations Committee gutted a different decriminalization bill, SB 519. Like SB 58, the original bill would have removed criminal penalties for the personal possession and use of certain psychoactive drugs by adults aged 21 and over. Yet, in August, SB 519 was reduced to a mere study on the potential of psychedelic policy reform. SB-519 passed two Assembly Committees but ultimately stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
In a statement released at the time by Senator Wiener, author of SB 519, Wiener expressed the amended bill would not derail his commitment to continue to push for the statewide decriminalization of psychedelics. “We will reintroduce the bill next year,” he shared in a tweet linking to his official statement. “We are not giving up on making the case for this important proposal.”
In addition to Wiener, SB 58 is co-authored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles), Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles), Alex Lee (D-Fremont), and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) is a principal co-author.
“Psychedelics have tremendous capacity to help people heal,” Wiener stated in a press release introducing SB 58. “These drugs literally save lives and are some of the most promising treatments we have for PTSD, anxiety, depression, and addiction. We need to end the outdated, racist, failed War on Drugs and finally pursue drug policies that help people instead of incarcerating them.”
SB 58 appears to be off to a more promising start than the previous bill, with momentum around psychedelic decriminalization already built within the assembly through lobbying and local government outreach. Yet, public criticism of statewide efforts says these initiatives fail to include input from those most impacted by the drug war in the drafting process itself, set possession and cultivation limits that would potentially continue to police those who engage with these substances, and don’t advocate for full decriminalization of all drugs.
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Dr. Carl Hart, neuroscientist and author of Drug Use For Grownups, criticized current decriminalization initiatives in a conversation titled Decriminalization is Bullshit, hosted at the National Psychedelic Conference and presented by Oakland Hyphae, The Ancestor Project, and Mycosymbiote. Hart expressed that current decriminalization initiatives continue to leave out substances communities are most policed for in the drug war, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, because they are not considered psychoactives. He questions how impactful these measures will be in the communities the initiatives claim to advocate for.
“Narratives around [different substances] widely differ. When we think about declassification of drugs, these things are not done unintentionally, they are done intentionally. All of these substances are psychoactive, and we’re all taking them to alter our consciousness. If we’re not aware of what’s happening, we’re just making it more effective to imprison the very people we say we care about.” (Note, the author was a moderator for this talk.)
However, proponents say SB 58 is a step in the right direction and will have trickling effects to combat the mental health crisis and improve public safety.
“Psychedelics represent the single most important breakthrough in mental health treatment in our lifetimes,” said Dr. Nathaniel Mills, Clinical Director, Sacramento Institute. “Decriminalization of these medicines will create opportunities for healing for the people who need it the most.”
Sergeant Carl Tennenbaum, a retired officer in the San Francisco Police Department, says removing criminal penalties for psychedelics will improve public safety in California, allowing law enforcement to focus on violent crimes as opposed to drug offenses.
“Removing criminal penalties for psychedelics will improve public safety in California, allow law enforcement to focus on the violent crime that threatens all of us, and it will give hope to first responders and many others that suffer from PTSD [and] depression by allowing personal use of psychedelic medicines for healing.”
SB 58 follows other initiatives that have successfully approved decriminalization measures on state and local levels. Oregon’s measure 110 was approved in 2020, while Colorado approved Proposition 122 last month. In California, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Arcata, and San Francisco have passed similar decriminalization initiatives placing possession of certain substances as among the lowest priorities for law enforcement.