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California Advocates Look To 2023 After Remaining Legislative Measure Fizzles Out in Assembly

After psychedelic legalization efforts took a body blow in the California state legislature last week, advocates are regrouping and reorganizing instead of being satisfied with a compromise. 

A long-awaited bill in the California state senate was modified to turn the psychedelic decriminalization measure into a bill for further study, prompting the bill’s sponsor to pull the measure. That came after the bill was already modified in an attempt to find a middle ground, and has left advocates seeking a new approach to legalizing natural medical alternatives in the state. 

And although this serves as the second blow to legalization efforts this year, after a voter initiated measure failed to gather enough signatures, those behind the attempted legislation said they will keep trying to change the way psychedelics are treated by state law. 

“While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking forward to reintroducing this legislation next year,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), “and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs.” 

The bill, Senate Bill 519, was originally introduced in February of last year, and went through a number of hearings and amendments in last year’s session before it was tabled last August. At that time, Wiener said the plan was to “spend the next year continuing to build support in the Assembly” and labeled the legislation a “2 year bill.” 

Also at that time, an “allowable amount” section was added to the bill, setting the quantities allowed for each of the substances in the legislation. 

Even after the changes in last year’s session, the bill was still written to “make lawful the possession, obtaining, giving away, or transportation of, specified quantities of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) for personal use or facilitated or supported use, as defined, by and with persons 21 years of age or older.” 

That process of building support stayed relatively dormant for the majority of the year, until the bill was amended earlier this week. 

Initially, Wiener tweeted that he was waiting to see what the final version would look like. By the time the final bill was announced, 16 of the 18 sections of the bill had been struck down, changing the scope of the bill to create a Research Advisory Panel to study and conduct hearings on research projects concerning hallucinogenic drugs. 

In short, the bill went from legalizing psychedelics to simply studying the potential of such a measure. 

Because of the changes, a spokesperson for the senator told the Los Angeles Times that Wiener planned to withdraw the bill from consideration. 

Even before the changes, however, some advocates were cautious about how the bill had been amended.  

A Facebook post by advocacy group Decriminalize Nature was opposed to the “allowable amount” section added to the bill, and was vocal in its criticism of the bill Wiener produced to the full Assembly. 

“Decriminalize Nature cannot support any legislation that sets limits on naturally-occurring plant and fungi medicines,” the statement read. “Limitations are just another way to say, “When can we begin arresting people?” and is not true decriminalization.”

Beyond the punitive aspect of adding allowable amounts, Decriminalize Nature said the concept of capping the amount of substances would “restrict the emergence of a local economy” and would hurt access for members of society who stood to gain the most from true decriminalization. 

“By setting limits, it will restrict the critical grow-gather-gift model which is a fundamental necessity for ensuring the most marginalized people in our society (who are continuously left out of access to services), can receive the healing medicines they need.”

The inability to decriminalize psychedelics through the state legislature follows in the footsteps of an attempted ballot measure that fell short of gathering enough signatures in March of this year. At the time, the organizers blamed the effects of COVID on their campaign, and in an e-mail announcement to supporters detailed plans to bring back the measure in 2023. 

Campaign manager Ryan Munevar said the state of the world, and the mental health crisis that has come with it, makes this work more timely than ever. 

“Guaranteed the world is going to get crazier before it gets better, and that’s why now more than ever people need access to magic mushrooms and all the other psychedelic substances out there to get through it,” the statement said. 

“For those of you working on ending the drug war, be it once substance at a time or all of them at once, keep fighting the good fight, it’s worth it.”

That optimism was matched by Wiener, who was still able to make some headway in his fight against the War on Drugs by passing a bill for safe consumption sites through the Assembly. In addition to his statement announcing the changes to his bill, Wiener made it clear in a tweet that he believes there is “immense promise” in psychedelics to ease the addiction crisis in America. 

“Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment,” he said. 

“We are not giving up.”

Author

  • Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.