Provisions of a California bill that would have decriminalized psychedelic drugs including magic mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA were stripped from the measure by a legislative committee last week, with lawmakers instead amending the bill to only study the issue.
The measure, Senate Bill 519 from Senator Scott Wiener, would have allowed for the personal possession and use of psychedelic drugs including mescaline, ibogaine, MDMA, and psilocybin. Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, has said that the legislation would have helped address the disproportionate enforcement of the state’s drug laws while allowing for the therapeutic use of psychedelics, which have been shown to have potential as treatments for serious mental health issues including addiction, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
Wiener originally introduced the legislation in the California Senate last year, where it passed with a narrow majority. But opposition to the legislation in the State Assembly led him to delay a vote on the bill until this year. The Assembly Appropriations Committee considered the measure on Thursday, passing an amended version of the bill that removes the psychedelics decriminalization provisions. Instead, the new language of the bill only authorizes a study of the proposal.
The bill was amended without debate or discussion under what the Sacramento Bee characterized as “California’s shadiest rules for lawmaking,” whereby the Appropriations Committee determines which of hundreds of bills that include costs for the state will advance to a vote of the full Assembly. The senator did not learn of the change until the next day, when he said he would reintroduce the bill next year.
“I’ve now confirmed that SB 519 – decriminalizing possession and use of small quantities of certain psychedelic drugs – was amended by the Assembly Appropriations Committee to remove the decriminalization aspect of the bill,” Wiener said in a statement from his office. “As a result, the soon-to-be-amended version of SB 519 is limited to a study. While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs. Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up.”
A spokesman for Wiener reportedly said that he would withdraw the amended bill from consideration.
Psychedelics Decriminalization for Mental Health in California
When he introduced the legislation in 2021, Wiener said that it would allow those with mental health conditions including PTSD and anxiety to take advantage of the potential mental health benefits of psychedelics. The legislation was supported by many drug policy and mental health advocates, although some balked at provisions that set limits on the amount of psychedelics that would be decriminalized.
“I understand the frustration from advocates over possession limits added to the bill, and my preference would have been not to have possession limits at all,” Wiener said last year, adding that the legislation stood a better chance of passage with the limits. “But sometimes you have a choice about, do you want to pass a meaningful bill, or do you want to insist on the perfect and pass no bill?”
Law enforcement groups that had originally opposed Wiener’s bill had reportedly eased their position and were willing to compromise. A spokesperson for Wiener’s office said that he was “prepared to scale the bill back” in response to concerns that were raised over the legislation, including limiting the measure to entheogenic plants and fungi, which would remove LSD and MDMA from the decriminalization bill.
SB 519 was gutted by the Appropriations Committee despite bipartisan support in the legislature and no formal opposition to the measure. The Sacramento Bee noted that 58% of Californians support psychedelics decriminalization and the bill was on a path to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for approval. But with the bill now stripped of its decriminalization provisions, veterans and others living with severe mental health disorders will have to wait at least another year to use psychedelics for relief without fear of law enforcement interference.
“The problem, as with all moral victories in politics, is that real people suffer from the delay. Like the cancer-stricken veterans who waited years for Congress to expand health care coverage to include burn pit exposure, those with PTSD will have to wait longer until they can safely access psychedelics in California that could save their lives,” Yousef Baig, assistant opinion editor of the Sacramento Bee, wrote in an editorial. “The same applies to people with addiction disorders or other mental illnesses who struggle to find relief. All they have to do is survive until California lawmakers realize that their crooked practices have consequences.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.