SACRAMENTO, Calif. (July 13, 2022) – A California Assembly committee will hold a hearing next month on a bill that would legalize possession of several psychedelic drugs including LSD and “magic mushrooms,” despite the federal prohibition of the same.

Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 519 (SB519) last year. The legislation would legalize the possession, personal use, and facilitated and supported use of the following substances by adults 21 and over.

  • psilocybin
  • psilocyn
  • MDMA
  • LSD
  • DMT
  • mescaline (excluding peyote)
  • ibogaine

This legislation would also require the California Department of Public Health (DPH) to convene a working group to research and make recommendations to the legislature on the regulation and use of the substances included in the bill.

“With mental health issues on the rise, it is time that California take an incremental and measured step to dismantle failed war on drugs policies by ending the criminalization of people that possess and use substances with immense healing potential,” Wiener said in a statement of the bill’s purpose.

Last year, SB519 cleared the Senate by a vote of 21-16. It has also passed the Assembly Public Safety and Health Committees. Weiner put the bill on hold last August.

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.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved a measure to decriminalize cocaine, heroin and other drugs. Several cities, including Ann Arbor, Mich.; Hazel Park, Mich.; Detroit, Mich.; Oakland, Calif.; Arcata, Calif.; and Denver Colo. have 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.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Assembly Appropriations Committee will take up SB519 on Aug. 3. It must pass the committee by a majority vote before moving to the full Assembly for further consideration.

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