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California is on the Brink of Decriminalizing Psychedelics


Over the last few months, California has been discussing a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of all psychedelic drugs. In February, senator Scott Weiner introduced SB519, which would reform the penalties around the possession and use of psychedelic substances. Some substances include LSD, MDMA, ibogaine, and non-peyote-derived mescaline for adults over age 21. The bill would also allow for the cultivation of certain natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin mushrooms and plants that contain DMT. 

Like psychedelic bills in other states and DC, state bill 519 would also allow adults to give psychedelic substances to one another freely. For this reason, the bill’s journey over the last six months has been difficult. It’s exposed deep disagreements in the advocacy community while trying to figure out a solution that works for everyone, protects people’s ability to consent, and doesn’t turn psychedelics into a commerce situation. 

The proposal passed the state senate in May. All of the groups involved with getting it ready for a vote agree that they want to end the War on Drugs and make it safer to access these widely available drugs. They also agree that there is a cultural and therapeutic use for psychedelic substances that hold potential healing value. 

Many advocates argue that psychedelics should be totally legal— Free to use, grow, and share. They have been shown to reactivate certain parts of the brain and help people deal with post-traumatic stress, depression, and other mental illnesses. They’ve also demonstrated useful in end-of-life care and addiction recovery. Legalizing psychedelics would also ensure more transparent practices around selling and using drugs. 

Others look to models like Initiative 81 in DC, which decriminalized plant-derived psychedelic substances and opened the floodgates for the “gifting” of psychedelics similar to their cannabis model. While dispensaries aren’t allowed to operate in DC, you can purchase an overpriced t-shirt or sticker and get weed, mushrooms, or DMT for free. 

However, most advocates are skeptical of the commercial model entirely. “The goal of SB 519 is to stop making criminals out of people for personal and group-supported use of psychedelics. It also sets up the potential for a regulated therapeutic program,” said Ben Unger of New Approach PAC. “We’ve never considered nor aimed for a commercial model.”

Looking at the effects of Oregon’s full decriminalization of drugs in Measure 110, most advocates for SB519 agree that there’s a need for health centers over criminal enforcement. Some argue that California would need to employ a similar structure to Oregon’s model to protect the rights of people and keep them safe while they’re under the influence of psychedelics. 

With that comes its own set of trouble, though. Psychedelics aren’t just like ‘cannabis but stronger.’ They can be completely incapacitating. Joseph Holcomb Adams, a bioethicist and educator, worries about people and psychedelics with social sharing and facilitated use. “These drugs are incapacitating in the sense that you could not make medical decisions, you could not give consent. [They] induce extreme suggestibility in people, which leaves people very, very vulnerable to all sorts of even subtle influences.”

In a bioethics sense, that means “that participating leaves the client-participant or patient in a place where they’re vulnerable,” to manipulation, indoctrination, or even sexual assault. “I really do believe in cognitive liberty, but here’s where I draw the line.”

Ultimately, there is still some work being done surrounding state bill 519 and lots of arguments to be looked at. More action on the bill is expected in the coming months. It stands before the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is said to be acted on by the end of the month. If it passes the committee, it proceeds to the full Assembly floor, where it’ll either be voted on or carried into the next year. 

The successes in other cities and states have shown that decriminalizing psychedelics can be done safely. As amendments can come at any time with Senate agreement, there’s a good chance that California may be the next state to decriminalize all psychedelics fully. What are your opinions?

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