November 14, 2023

Psychedelic Decriminalization

California Governor Vetoes Psychedelic Decrim Bill

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 58, which would have decriminalized the personal possession and use of certain psychedelic substances. The bill also would have laid the foundation to create a regulated adult-use program, whereby individuals above the age of 21 could have consumed psychedelics under the supervision of a licensed facilitator.

The bill was approved by both chambers of the California legislature back in September. The bill was heavily scrutinized and amended throughout the legislature, but the fact that California’s elected state representatives reached consensus to approve the bill was a notable accomplishment.

However, Governor Gavin Newsom ultimately decided to leverage his veto power to stop the bill from becoming law. In his veto letter, Governor Newsom acknowledged that “both peer-reviewed science and powerful personal anecdotes” have led him to support the implementation of new approaches to addressing mental health using psychedelic substances.

Governor Newsom asserted that this is “an exciting frontier and California will be on the front-end of leading it.” The governor believes that work should be done “immediately” to begin setting up regulated treatment guidelines, which Senate Bill 58 would have done. However, he opted to veto the bill because it would have “decriminalize[d] possession prior to these guidelines going into place.”

Senator Scott Weiner, the lead author of the bill, said Newsom’s veto was a “setback for a huge number of Calfornians—including combat veterans and first responders—who are safely using and benefiting from these non-addictive substances and who will now continue to be classified as criminals under California law.”

Political Motivations Speculated to Underlie the Governor’s Decision

It is not entirely obvious why the Governor vetoed the bill. His concerns for the lack of “regulated treatment guidelines” seem to be more of a distraction, than legitimate concern, considering that the bill would have created a workgroup to develop such guidelines for regulated use. Moreover, the decriminalization component of the bill would not have permitted individuals to consume psychedelics in group settings. Rather, it simply would have removed criminal penalties for adults who choose to use psychedelics on their own for personal healing.

The most vocal opposition to the bill came from a group of mothers who lost children to drug-related harms. Their concern is that decriminalization of psychedelics for personal use will increase incidence of adverse harms in the absence of particular safeguards, such as public education and first responder training. Supporters generally agree that such safeguards should be put in place, but argue continued criminalization does not prevent drug related harms. Rather, it disincentivizes folks using drugs or their peers from seeking help.

Governor Newsom had not previously indicated his opposition to the decriminalization components of the bill.  As such, many see his veto as an affirmative political statement. Although Newsom has denied speculation of plans to run against President Biden in 2024, all eyes are on him to “step up if, or when, the incumbent is out of the running.”

The Future of Psychedelics in California is Still Bright

While the veto was a disappointment to many Californians, new opportunities are on the horizon. Governor Newsom has urged the legislature to present updated legislation in 2024 that “includes therapeutic guidelines” and is willing to consider “potential broader decriminalization in the future” once best practices and safety guardrails are implemented.

Outside of the legislature, several citizen-led ballot initiatives are seeking to get on the ballot in 2024. Ballot initiates give California voters the power to propose new laws or amendments without the support of any government official.

Since our last update, the TREAT Initiative, which would have created a $5 billion state funding agency to promote research and access to psychedelic treatments, has suspended its campaign. The decision follows polling that showed 60% of likely voters oppose state funding for psychedelic therapies. As such, the initiative’s team is redirecting its efforts to creating a non-profit with the same goals.

Two other psychedelic initiatives are actively collecting signatures with the hopes of qualifying for the 2024 ballot. The California Psilocybin Initiative of 2024 (CPI 2024) would remove criminal penalties for individuals 21 years of age or older who cultivate, manufacture, process, distribute, transport, possess or use psilocybin, in any quantity. The California Department of Food and Agriculture would be tasked with regulating psilocybin commercial sales.  The initiative would also allow “qualified healthcare practitioners” to administer psilocybin for research, treatment, or personal development purposes.

The Psychedelic Wellness & Healing Initiative of 2024 has also recently started collecting signatures. This initiative seeks to enshrine the rights of Californian’s to obtain and use entheogenic substances for medical, therapeutic, and spiritual purposes. Such use would require a recommendation from a licensed medical professional who has determined that the person would benefit from the use of the substance in treatment for mental and physical health conditions, or overall wellbeing.

In 2024, keep an eye out for new legislation from Senator Weiner’s office with the substance requested in Governor Newsom’s veto letter, the aforementioned citizen-led initiatives on California’s November election ballot, and potential federal legalization of MDMA through the Food and Drug Agency.

Manzuri Law’s Psychedelic Attorneys

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