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Two California Initiatives Aim to Reform Psychedelics Drug Policy

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Two California Initiatives Aim to Reform Psychedelics Drug Policy

Two initiatives in California are seeking to reform drug policy around psychedelic substances. Both share the long term goal of legalizing psychedelics, but their strategies and specific approaches are markedly different. 

One effort is being led by California State Senator Scott Wiener, who last Thursday introduced legislation that, if passed, would decriminalize the use and possession of certain psychedelic substances statewide, making them the lowest priority for law enforcement. It would not, however, remove them from the list of controlled substances or allow for commercial production and distribution. Wiener hopes that the legislation (SB-519), co-authored with assembly members Sydney Kamlager, Evan Low, and Bill Quirk, will bring California closer to the decriminalization of all drugs, similar to a voter initiative which passed in Oregon last November, reports The Guardian. 

The substances covered by this legislation include psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, ketamine, LSD, MDMA, mescaline, and ibogaine – all of which are being studied for potential medical use. The list intentionally excludes peyote due to the shortage of the plant among indigenous practitioners, Wiener tells The Guardian. 

The current list also does not include 5-MeO-DMT, a potent psychedelic contained in the secretion of the Sonoran Desert toad and found as well in certain plants. It can also be synthesized. While 5-MeO-DMT is arguably an analog of DMT, which the current draft would decriminalize, 5-MeO-DMT could be regarded as an analog of other controlled substances not slated for decriminalization. Pioneering psychedelic researcher Bob Jesse explains, “If 5-MeO-DMT is to be unambiguously decriminalized then the bill’s authors may need to include it explicitly.”

Wiener’s office has been consulting with Jesse on the bill, who says he has “offered input on the bill’s approach and language.” Jesse also helped to connect Wiener’s office with scientists and practitioners who can address open questions around the draft, including the possible inclusion of 5-MeO-DMT.

In a press release for the legislation, the clinical research into the medical and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics is emphasized. Among the bill’s sponsors are Heroic Heart Project and VETS, Inc, both vocal advocates for psychedelic-assisted therapy as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. 

In addition to decriminalizing possession and use, the bill would “expunge criminal records for people convicted of possession or personal use of these substances,” and “create a taskforce to recommend which regulatory body would oversee personal and therapeutic use of these substances for mental health treatment,” reports The Guardian. 

Decriminalizing the personal use of psychedelics “is part of the larger movement to end the racist War on Drugs and its failed and destructive policies,” reads the press release. 

The bill is expected to be brought to vote in late March or early April, says Wiener’s communications director Catie Stewart.

The second initiative is taking a different route to drug policy reform. The activist-led group Decriminalize California has announced that it intends to put a sweeping initiative on the ballot in 2022 to legalize psilocybin. The current version of the measure, which is being drafted in a public, “open source” process, seeks to legalize the “personal, spiritual, dietary, therapeutic, and medical use” of psilocybin for anyone 21 or older. 

The draft is an updated version of Decrim CA’s ballot initiative of 2020. The campaign was not able to collect the number of signatures necessary to move forward last year, a disappointment it has attributed to the pandemic. 

For the proposed measure to make it onto the 2022 ballot requires Decrim CA to collect 623,212 signatures by June 30, 2022. 

According to the latest draft of the initiative, personal usage of psilocybin, along with the “cultivation, manufacture, processing, production of edible products and extracts” derived from psilocybin and the “distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, social consumption, on-site consumption, public events, farmers’ markets, and retail sale, whether or not for profit, shall be lawful in this state and is a matter of statewide concern.”

Decrim CA’s focus on creating a marketplace for psilocybin distinguishes it from other decriminalization and legalization efforts that have seen success at the state and local level, which protect individuals from arrest for personal cultivation and use, but do not remove psilocybin from the list of Schedule 1 substances and allow for the distribution and sale of psilocybin. But as the Decrim CA FAQ states, the ballot proposal seeks to create a “legal framework in which sales of psilocybin would be regulated.” 

Some psychedelic activists have noted that this broad approach to the creation of a legal market mirrors language used in laws that created a marketplace for cannabis. They have expressed concern that psilocybin could similarly become dominated by corporate enterprises following legalization. 

Decrim CA’s campaign manager, Ryan Munevar, explained to Lucid News that using the term “decriminalize” in the organization’s name instead of “legalize” is a matter of “simply marketing,” while acknowledging the ambiguity around the term.

“At the end of the day, the word ‘Decriminalization’ is highly confusing but a very popular word to slap on the front of an organization or cause and simply polls better than ‘Legalization,’” says Munevar. “Our language is the most advanced draft that at the state level comes as close to full legalization as possible in California.”

Asked how the two separate efforts compare to one another, Munevar tells Marijuana Moment, “It’s basically like a double-pronged approach. With Scott Wiener, if he’s got good language and it’s worth backing, we’ll do it. And in the background, we’re still pushing ours, which is radically more advanced than anything else anybody’s doing right now.”

What would make Wiener’s legislation worth backing in the eyes of Decrim CA? In an email to Lucid News, Munevar explains that the assessment will be based on four key factors: access, quality, cost, and the amnesty and expungement process. 

“The current draft of SB-519 allows for possession, but no formal testing, because sales aren’t allowed, so the cost is going to be determined by the supply of the black market, and it has amnesty and expungement built in for possession but nothing else,” says Munevar. “We will see how it evolves with the public feedback and committees that work on it.”

The ballot initiative and Wiener’s legislation are complementary “as far as magic mushrooms are concerned,” says Munevar. While Stewart, Weiner’s communications director, doesn’t believe the ballot initiative will affect the legislative effort, she recognizes that the two initiatives take different approaches. 

“Senator Wiener is focused on decriminalization and researching the therapeutic benefits,” says Stewart. “That’s where we believe is currently the best place to focus policy to help the most Californians.”

Image: Nicki Adams using modified images from Doc James, Kuhmni, Motorbase, Apollo, Dick Culbert, Caleb Brown.

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