After passage by the California legislature on September 7, SB 58, which would decriminalize certain psychedelic substances, now heads to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom who has until October 14 to sign the bill into law.
The legislation, authored by California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would decriminalize the personal possession, use, preparation, obtaining, and transporting of “allowable amounts” of psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline (not derived from peyote) and DMT. Decriminalization would go into effect on January 1, 2025.
The bill went through many changes on the road to passage. An amendment made in the Assembly would establish a working group under the California Health and Human Services (CalHHS) Agency tasked with issuing a recommended framework to govern the future therapeutic use (including facilitated and supported use) of the substances specified in this bill. The workgroup would issue their report by January 1, 2025, and implementation of therapeutic use would be contingent upon future legislative action.
The bill retains language which exempts paraphernalia used in the preparation, testing, analysis and use of substances included in SB 58 from existing state laws prohibiting their use. It would make it less risky to utilize drug checking services such as those provided by organizations like DanceSafe.
In a statement on Instagram following the Assembly vote, Wiener said, “We’ve been working on this bill for three and a half years and this is incredibly exciting… I want to thank everybody who has worked on this bill. We have a great coalition of combat veterans and first responders and health-care professionals in our coalition. Let’s get this done.”
Recent Amendments to the Bill
Amendments introduced in the California State Assembly Appropriations Committee have narrowed the bill, removing provisions which would have allowed for sharing and facilitated use. It also lowered legal limits to focus the bill on personal possession, rather than group or facilitated use. Language in the bill which would have decriminalized the use and possession of Iboga was also removed.
Limits for “allowable amounts” of DMT, psilocybin, and psilocin were reduced, but limits placed on mescaline were not changed during the amendment process.
The possession and transporting of an amount of spores or mycelium capable of producing an allowable amount of fungi would become legal. While the specific legal limit is not defined in the legislation, it focuses the bill on growing for personal use rather than gifting or sharing.
New language added to the bill also explicitly excludes synthetic analogs of the substances included in the bill, such as derivatives produced using chemical synthesis, chemical modification, or chemical conversion.
Earlier in the session, the bill was amended to delay the use of the specified substances in group or community-based healing until a framework for therapeutic use is developed. This framework is to be proposed in the report from the CalHHS workgroup.
The workgroup would be chaired by the Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, and would include:
- Persons with expertise in psychedelic therapy, medicine and public health, drug policy, harm reduction, and youth drug education.
- Law enforcement and emergency medical services or fire service first responders.
- People with experience with the traditional indigenous use of psychedelic substances, including representatives from the National Council of the Native American Church and Indian tribes in California.
- Veterans groups.
- University researchers with expertise in psychedelics.
- Research scientists with expertise in clinical studies and drug approval process under the federal Food and Drug Administration.
- Individuals from other states that have decriminalized psychedelics and established regulatory frameworks for the lawful use of psychedelics.
|Substance||New Possession Threshold||Previous Possession Threshold (from SB 519)|
|DMT||One gram||2 grams|
|Psilocybin||1 gram of psilocybin or 1 ounce of a plant or fungi containing psilocybin (28.35 grams)||2 gram of psilocybin or 4 ounce of a plant or fungi containing psilocybin (113.4 grams)|
|Psilocin||1 gram of psilocin or 1 ounce of a plant or fungi containing psilocin (28.35 grams)||2 gram of psilocin or 4 ounce of a plant or fungi containing psilocin (113.4 grams)|
|Mescaline (not from peyote)||4 grams||4 grams|
While iboga was included in last year’s version of the bill (SB 519), it was removed from SB 58 prior to the Assembly vote. The use of iboga has proven a promising treatment in addressing the symptoms of addiction. However, its use has risks. According to Nara Dahlbacka, a drug policy lobbyist based in Oakland who has been organizing in support of the bill, this decision was made due to concerns that iboga presents a cardiac risk for people with undiagnosed heart conditions. A push for medical screening prior to ingesting Iboga prompted the removal of language that would decriminalize its possession during the Assembly Appropriations committee hearings. While it is unclear who pushed for this change, a similar process appears underway in Colorado. The workgroup is still expected to include recommendations for the facilitated use of iboga in their report.
Delaying Decriminalization, Removing Facilitated Use
Another amendment to the legislation would delay the decriminalization provision from going into effect until January 1, 2025, the same date that the report from the workgroup would be due.
The bill was also amended to delay the allowance of what the bill calls “supported or facilitated use.” These provisions would have made it possible to possess aggregate amounts for use by groups, as when an ayahuascero brings a large preparation of tea to share in a ceremony. With this change in the legislation, all facilitated use will be delayed until a framework for therapeutic and facilitated use is implemented, following the recommendations of the workgroup.
The Cost of the Bill
An analysis prepared for members of the California State Assembly includes an estimate from the California Department of Public Health that puts the cost of convening the workgroup at $362,000. It would be taken as a one-time cost from the general fund in fiscal year 2024-25.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates that it costs $128,000 to incarcerate one person for one year. To the extent this bill eliminates future convictions and related prison terms, it will reduce CDCR’s incarceration costs.
On the Governor’s Desk
The lobbying effort behind SB 58 has been supported by New Approach PAC, the same group behind recent psychedelic decriminalization measures in Oregon and Colorado.
Governor Newsom’s position on the bill is unclear. While a supporter of harm reduction efforts in the past, and an early supporter of cannabis legalization, his decision to veto recent legislation which would have legalized a pilot of overdose prevention centers has drawn strong criticism. It is believed by harm reduction advocates that Newsom vetoed that bill in anticipation of a 2028 presidential run.
A poll conducted by FM3 Research and distributed to legislators in August found that 59 percent of California voters either strongly or somewhat support a plant-based psychedelics decriminalization bill.
The Governor has until October 14 to sign bills sent to his desk during this year’s legislative session. If signed into law, SB 58 would become state law on January 1, 2024, beginning with the formation of the workgroup, followed by decriminalization on January 1, 2025.