A bill that would decriminalize possession of several psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, ketamine, and psilocybin “magic” mushrooms was saved from being held in suspense this session by being approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee 5-2 on Thursday.
Senate Bill 519, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would “decriminalize” dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine (psychedelic substance), ketamine, 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. 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.
Senator Wiener wrote the bill largely to help end war on drugs-era policies such as mass incarceration of individuals jailed for having non-seller quantities on them when arrested, as well as to increase scientific and medical testing to help those suffering from mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression.
“By decriminalizing we’re not inviting people to use” said Senator Wiener in early April. “We’re taking, instead of a criminal approach to drug use, a health-minded approach. SB 519 is a step toward dismantling the failed and racist War on Drugs, because locking people up for drug use doesn’t work.”
To bring that point home, his most recent amendment to SB 519 added a section detailing how Oregon, as well as cities across the United States including Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, MI, Somerville, MA, and Cambridge, MA have all passed some form of psychedelic decriminalization measures. Other cities that passed such measures, such as Northampton, MA and Denver, had not been added by Wiener as of the last amendment.
A long road to the suspense file vote
SB 519 has had a rocky road to the Senate floor, with numerous Senators in each committee either voting against the bill or electing to not vote. However, it has managed to squeak by each time, with the 5-2 vote on Thursday continuing the trend.
Thursday’s vote differed though, due to the bill being in a suspense file. With looming passage deadlines, SB 519 was one of hundreds placed in the file earlier this month because of the financial impact it may have. Bills in the suspense file are also not up for debate, only relying on a simple yea/nay vote. SB 519 was thus moved up by a simple 5-2 majority.
Supporters celebrated the vote result on Thursday, with Senator Wiener tweeting out “Our legislation to decriminalize psychedelics, SB 519, passed a key committee and will be voted on by the full Senate within the next two weeks.”
Our legislation to decriminalize psychedelics, #SB519, passed a key committee and will be voted on by the full Senate within the next two weeks.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) May 20, 2021
However, opponents remained optimistic despite the vote on Thursday.
“It is still being voted against by a significant percentage,” said former police officer and current drug counselor Marty Ribera to the Globe on Thursday. “No one is caving in. And once it hits the big votes in the Senate and Assembly, when citizens can really make their voices heard, they are going to be bombarded by a lot of citizens against this. They won a few battles, but the war really hasn’t started yet.”
SB 519 is due to be voted on in the Senate by June 4th. If passed, it will then move on to an Assembly Committee.