The bill successfully cleared the lower house of the California Legislature on Sept. 6 – with 55 members voting in favor, 14 opposing and 22 abstaining. It was initially introduced in the California State Senate by Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco. Before reaching the State Assembly, the bill underwent several amendments – including reducing the allowable amount of the substances and delaying the implementation until 2025.
The bill also decriminalizes the ingestion, possession, cultivation or transportation of up to four grams of mescaline – excluding peyote – and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and one gram of DMT for personal use. The distribution and sharing of these substances remain prohibited.
Moreover, the bill directs the California Health and Human Services Agency to create a team of experts to study how these drugs can be used safely for therapy. The group will analyze whether these drugs can help with problems like PTSD, depression, and addiction. The team will also give policy recommendations on drug distribution, safety, production, access, and use for therapeutic purposes.
"We know these substances are not addictive, and they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most intractable conditions driving our nation’s mental health crisis," Wiener said. "It's time to stop criminalizing people who use psychedelics for healing or personal well-being."
California debates over the healing potential versus safety of psychedelics
Supporters of the bill, including criminal justice reformers, veterans' groups and mental health professionals, argue that psychedelic drugs are nonaddictive and hold potential benefits, especially for individuals dealing with trauma. They emphasize the therapeutic potential of these substances. Conversely, opponents argue that decriminalization could lead to increased drug abuse.
Jesse Gould, a former Army Ranger who benefited from psychedelic therapies abroad to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, acknowledged that the bill had been watered down but still considered it an important first step.
Gould, the founder of Heroic Hearts Project, a nonprofit advocating for veterans to access psychedelic therapies, stated: "This is a huge win in terms of how far it's come and in terms of the bipartisan support. We kind of view California as more of a liberal state, but there was still pretty staunch conservative opposition."
However, the California Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education, warned that the proposal would rush decriminalization without putting crucial regulations in place, including safety measures and public education campaigns.
The coalition made it clear that it is not opposed to decriminalization if done safely. For instance, Beth Parket, the leader of the group, began advocating against the bill after a family member died following an adverse reaction to psilocybin.
"She purchased them in Oakland. They came in a brown paper bag with no instructions for dosage. We're very concerned that people can obtain these substances with absolutely no guidance, no warning about the risks, or the downsides or the contraindications," Parket recounted.