SACRAMENTO, Calif. (July 5, 2021) – Last Tuesday, a California Assembly committee passed a bill that would legalize possession of several psychedelic drugs including LSD and “magic mushrooms,” despite federal prohibition on the same.
Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 519 (SB519) on Feb. 17. The legislation would legalize and make lawful the possession and personal use of the following substances by adults 21 and over.
- mescaline (excluding peyote)
Under the proposed law “social sharing” of these substances would also be legal.
“Under SB 519, we will no longer arrest people and incarcerate them for the simple personal possession of psychedelics for personal or shared use,” Wiener told the committee on Tuesday. “That’s really the question here: Do we believe that we should be arresting someone because they possess psychedelics for personal use? I don’t think we should. Frankly, I think most people don’t think we should be doing that.”
SB519 originally included expungement provisions that would dismiss and seal pending and prior convictions for offenses that would be made lawful by the passage of the bill. That language was stripped from the bill by an amendment from the sponsor.
Under the proposed law, the Department of Public Health would be required to establish a working group “to study and make recommendations regarding possible regulatory systems that California could adopt to promote safe and equitable access to certain substances in permitted legal contexts.” Its recommendations would be due by January 1, 2024.
“Policy should be based on science and common sense, not fear and stigma,” Wiener said in a press release when he introduced the bill. “The War on Drugs and mass incarceration are destructive and failed policies, and we must end them. Moreover, given the severity of our mental health crisis, we shouldn’t be criminalizing people for using drugs that have shown significant promise in treating mental health conditions.”
The introduction of SB519 follows a successful ballot measure that decriminalized a number of drugs, including heroin and cocaine in Oregon.
Last year, Ann Arbor became the third city in the U.S. to decriminalize “magic mushrooms.” Oakland and Denver have also effectively decriminalized psilocybin – a substance hallucinogenic substance found in certain mushrooms. A number of studies have shown psilocybin to be effective in the treatment of depression, PTSD, chronic pain and addiction. For instance, a Johns Hopkins study found that “psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.”
Decriminalization and legalization efforts at the state and local level are moving forward despite the federal government’s prohibition of these various substances.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains the complete prohibition of many of the drugs on SB519’s decriminalization list and heavily regulates others. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate such substances within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
In effect, the passage of SB519 would end criminal enforcement of laws prohibiting the possession of these drugs in California. As we’ve seen with marijuana and hemp, when states and localities stop enforcing laws banning a substance, the federal government finds it virtually impossible to maintain prohibition. For instance, FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing or ending state prohibition, states sweep part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state and local assistance, and the same will likely hold true with other drugs.
SB519 will move to the Assembly Committee on Health where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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