California recently passed a psychedelics decriminalization bill; the only problem is that the governor vetoed it. Read on for more information.
California psychedelics bill
This year, California was gearing up for a state-wide psychedelics decriminalization measure. Bill SB 58, known as the ‘Controlled substances: decriminalization of certain hallucinogenic substances’ act; would have gotten rid of criminal penalties for possession and use of certain entheogenic plants. Entheogenic plants include natural psychedelics like psilocybin from magic mushrooms, DMT, and mescaline; among other plant compounds, in other categories.
The new law was set to go into effect on the first of the year, 2025. The law would not have allowed for all amounts of the included substances; but it would have allowed for them in defined amounts. The bill would have legalized the “possession, preparation, obtaining, or transportation of, specified quantities of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and mescaline, for personal use, as defined, by and with persons 21 years of age or older.” If you’ll notice, LSD and MDMA are not on this list, as both of those compounds are synthetically made.
The law would have permitted the possession and use of paraphernalia equipment for these drugs; and it would have repealed provisions related to information from state alcohol and drug programs, that say there are no lawful uses of these drugs. As with any adult-use measure, the law stipulated penalties for having such drugs on school property; or giving the drugs to anyone below the age of 21.
Another point of the law, is that it would’ve forced the California Health and Human Services Agency to create a focus group geared toward investigating the therapeutic uses of these drugs; in order to implement facilitated programs of some kind. By the day the law was to go into effect, a report was required on these matters.
The law did pass both sides of California’s legislature in 2023. It passed the Senate in May, and then went onto the Assembly. The Assembly edited the document, and passed the edited version in early September. It then went back to the Senate with the edits, which passed it again on the 7th of September. Said bill creator Scott Wiener upon the legislature passing the bill:
“Veterans and anyone suffering from PTSD and depression should not face criminal penalties for seeking relief. Plant-based psychedelics are non-addictive and show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis.”
Like all other bills, simply passing the legislature did not make it a done deal. Once passed by both sides, it was sent to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom. It arrived there on September 13th of this year. According to California law, if the legislature passes a bill on September 14th or prior, the governor has until October 14th to respond.
California psychedelics bill vetoed
Governors have three options when a bill lands on their desk; and two have the same outcome. The first is to sign off on the bill and pass it into official law. The second is to veto the bill, and not allow it to become a law. The third option is to do nothing, and let a set amount of time pass; after which the bill automatically passes into law. Governors historically use the latter option when they don’t agree with a bill enough to validate it with a signature, but also know they likely can’t stop what’s happening.
In this case, Governor Newsom opted for the second option, a direct veto of the bill. He also chose to do this veto at a time when less people would be paying attention: Saturday. This past Saturday, the 7th of October, Newsom officially ended the bill. Had he not vetoed before the 14th, the measure would have automatically passed into law.
Newsom himself was actually a major proponent for cannabis legalization in 2016; but liberal thoughts on that front did not filter over to the psychedelics front. At least, not at this point in time; and not without what he considers requisite structures in place. Said Newsom in a statement, according to the AP:
“California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines – replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses. Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it.”
Wiener’s reaction to this veto? “This is a setback for the huge number of Californians — including combat veterans and first responders — who are safely using and benefiting from these non-addictive substances and who will now continue to be classified as criminals under California law. The evidence is beyond dispute that criminalizing access to these substances only serves to make people less safe and reduce access to help.”
Other attempts in California
Wiener is one of the biggest proponents for psychedelics reform in California; and this was not his first effort. He also promises its not his last. In 2021 Weiner was behind bill SB-519, with official title ‘Controlled substances: study of decriminalization of certain hallucinogenic substances’. This bill was broader than the one that just got vetoed, and included drugs like LSD and MDMA.
SB-519 did pass a Senate vote, but it couldn’t pass the Assembly. It was made inactive on August 25, 2022, and officially died on November 30th. SB 58 is essentially a reintroduction of this bill, but with a more limited scope that only focuses on decriminalizing drug plants, and not synthetic compounds.
Newsom, for his part, vetoed the more recent California psychedelics bill in a hurry to reach a deadline. It was one of over 700 bills that sat on the governor’s desk, and he made actions on 150 bills that Saturday, along with 320 on Sunday the 9th. All of this left him with 260 bills left to decide on. Should we believe that all these bills received the required amount of attention?
Newsom did do one interesting move on the psychedelics front, though. Something that mirrors a move last year by Colorado. One of the bills Newsom signed off on late last month, was AB 1021. This bill makes it so that immediately upon federal approval, California doctors can prescribe what are currently Schedule I substances, like psilocybin and MDMA.
AB 1021 can account for any Schedule I substance that the federal government reschedules. Right now, the two compounds closest to some kind of rescheduling, are psilocybin and MDMA. The FDA even awarded breakthrough therapy status to products from more than one company, concerning these compounds. Whether this means an actual rescheduling, however, is hard to say. It could mean the approval of specific medications, without anything more. The US has legalized cannabis medicines, after all, but cannabis was never taken out of Schedule I.
These two recent moves are somewhat antithetical (though not completely). One shows hesitation about decriminalizing psychedelics in California, with a vetoed bill; while the other shows the governor is totally cool with a medical psychedelics market. Should we expect Newsom to let a psychedelics decriminalization measure pass in the future, then? Or should we expect anything outside of a federal medical market, to get vetoed?
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