A bill that would have decriminalized several psychedelic drugs in California such as LSD, ecstasy, and psilocybin “magic” mushrooms was put on hold Thursday until next year after it failed to garner enough support in the Assembly to pass it.
Senate Bill 519, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would “decriminalize” dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine (psychedelic substance), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline (psychedelic hallucinogen), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy, molly) possession for personal use and social sharing.
SB 519 would also set strict limits on possession of the listed psychedelics, penalizing those who are under the age of 21 for using drugs, as well as possessing the drugs on school property. Legal amounts to possess would also be strictly set, with limits being up to 15 grams for ibogaine, 4 grams of MDMA, 2 grams for DMT, psilocybin, and psilocyn, and only one-hundredth (0.01) of a gram for LCD.
Possession of drug paraphernalia associated with psychedelics will no longer carry criminal penalties as long as they are owned by adults. Those with prior criminal offenses for possession and use would have also have their records expunged under the bill, with the California Department of Public Health to come up with regulations and therapeutic uses of the legalized psychedelics by 2024.
Since the bill’s introduction in early February, SB 519 was amended multiple times throughout the committee process to try and gain votes for passage. The bill’s author dropped ketamine from from SB 519 due to concerns of its status as a date-rape drug. He also listed exact legal amounts to the hundredths of a gram in order to discourage and properly punish drug dealers, as well as multiple other changes that have resulted in entire chunks of the bill to be rewritten.
While these large amended parts orchestrated by Wiener were enough for the bill to pass in each committee and floor vote, it still barely passed each. During the Senate vote in June, SB 519 only passed 21-16 with 3 abstentions, again, due to ketamine being removed from the bill. Each Assembly bill vote also came down to the wire, with the July Health Committee vote coming down to one vote before three Assembly members switched to abstaining.
SB 519 finally hit a wall this month with the Assembly Appropriations Committee. For the past month and a half, the bill has been repeatedly amended with vote dates continually moved due to Senator Wiener scrambling to get the votes needed to move the bill on to an Assembly vote. However, with the end of the session looming and Wiener still without enough Assembly Appropriations support, he formally announced that the vote would be delayed until the January 2022 session.
“While I’m disappointed we couldn’t pass SB 519 this year, I’m heartened that the bill moved as deep into the process as it did and that we have a realistic chance of passing it next year,” said Senator Wiener in a statement on Thursday. “Given that this idea had never before been introduced in the Legislature, our progress is a testament to the power of the issue and the urgency of the need to act. I’m so grateful to my colleagues for working with us and advancing the bill so significantly. Now that we have more time, I’m optimistic through education and member engagement we can pass this critical legislation next year. Decriminalizing psychedelics is an important step in ending the failed War on Drugs, and we are committed to this fight. Our mental health crisis is worse than ever, and psychedelics have shown great promise in treating mental health issues from PTSD to anxiety and depression. I look forward to working hard to continue this fight.”
2/ #SB519 advanced deep into the legislative process — honestly, way further than I anticipated, since it’s a new idea in the Legislature. It passed the full Senate & both Assembly policy committees.
But we need more time to build support in the Assembly to achieve final passage
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) August 26, 2021
Numerous lawmakers continue to oppose SB 519
Critics of the bill have noted that the delay will likely not be enough due to Republicans and many Democrats in the Assembly being against the bill overall.
“It’s easier in the Senate due to the broader districts being represented,” explained Mary Paulson, a legal expert in Boston who has been monitoring the bill for several East Coast state lawmakers. “But in the Assembly it has been much harder due to the smaller district sizes. You have a lot of smaller by area districts that cater to different ethnic groups and races that have each been harmed by the drug trade in the past. This isn’t an experiment to end the war on drugs to them. These are communities that have seen the effects of drugs, whether it is opiates in more rural areas or harder drugs in urban areas.”
“Marijuana was one thing, but psychedelics are equated to being more in line with heroin and cocaine than pot to many. So members of the California assembly know that for many of their districts, a vote for SB 519 could hurt them very much politically, Democrat or Republican. You could just imagine the attack ads next year.”
“This is why it is being fought for tooth and nail. And honestly, it is probably why it’s likely going to fail in the end, especially if there is a Republican in the Governor seat next year. It’s just way too controversial still.”
SB 519 is expected to be reactivated by Senator Wiener in time for next year’s session, likely with many more amendments to make it more palatable for lawmakers.