State Senate OKs Psychedelic Legalization Bill

SB 519 is moving onto the California Assembly, where it stands a real shot of becoming law.

State lawmakers just took another step toward legalizing psychedelics.

On June 1, the California State Senate approved SB 519, a bill authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which would make possessing and sharing a variety of psychedelic substances kosher. If the bill passes the Assembly, it will head to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

While Newsom is certainly weighing every public action carefully in light of a recall effort, don’t be surprised if he signs off on Wiener’s proposal. It wouldn’t be that radical of a move considering how much buzz there is surrounding the potential of “psychedelic medicine” these days. 

Last year, researchers at Yale found users of drugs such as LSD and psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in some fungi) in the United State and United Kingdom reported “a sustained improvement in mood and feeling closer to others [even] after the high has worn off.” In May, the New York Times published an op-ed from Zoe Boyer titled “I Was Paralyzed by Severe Depression. Then Came Ketamine.”

The same month, Natural Medicine published the results of a study in which participants suffering from post-traumatic stress received both counseling and MDMA. According to the study, 67 percent of those who participated went on to report “their condition had improved to the extent that they no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD.”

Simultaneously, politicians such as Wiener are taking up the cause — moving to legalize various psychedelic compounds at the city, state, and federal level. In the past few years, the Decriminalize Nature movement successfully has convinced city lawmakers from Denver to Washington, D.C. to Oakland to legalize the personal possession of psilocybin.

Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the personal use of all drugs earlier this year. 

The key difference between SB 519 and, say, Prop. 64, which legalized adult-use cannabis in the state, is that this psychedelics bill does not permit for the sales of the substances in question. If it did, that would, of course, amount to “decriminalization” but would also draw in big money from those looking to turn a profit.

Instead, by focusing on possession — and, in select cases, personal cultivation — the idea is to turn back the toxic tide of the War on Drugs and recognize that this class of compounds have the power to heal. This effort has suffered one setback, as a segment of Wiener’s bill concerning the expungement of related criminal records reportedly was removed to satisfy budgetary concerns.

Still, Wiener’s enthusiasm was palpable when he took to Twitter following the vote.

“To everyone who made calls, shared, posted, told their stories [sic]: You did this!” he tweeted. “Let’s keep up the fight & momentum. We need to end the failed War on Drugs.”

That’s a pretty pie-in-the-sky position to take. The bill could still fail. Alternatively, its passage could herald an era of commodified trips and Madison Avenue marketing campaigns pushing magic mushrooms. Regardless, the bigger picture may not be the acute fallout for California but rather the potential for a domino effect set off by a signature on SB 519.

Just as Prop. 64 was, in many ways, the opening of the floodgates that vaulted legal cannabis from a niche topic to a global enterprise, there is reason to believe California’s influence could once again inspire a cavalcade of other states to quickly follow suit should SB 519 become law.

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