California has moved a step closer to decriminalizing psychedelic drugs after legislation this week was advanced by the state Senate.
Introduced earlier this year, Senate Bill 519 would allow the possession and sharing of certain hallucinogenic substances such as magic mushrooms, MDMA, LSD, ketamine and ibogaine for those 21 years and older. Notably, however, the legislation does not decriminalize sales of such drugs.
In addition, the measure would create a task force through the California Department of Public Health that would study and produce recommendations on regulations of the newly decriminalized drugs to the state Legislature.
SB 519 was passed by a 21-16 vote.
While the legislation still needs to be OK’d by the California Assembly, one of the bill’s authors, state Sen. Scott Wiener, lauded its passage Tuesday by the legislative body.
“This is a big step for this legislation and for our movement to end the war on drugs and to take a more health and science-based approach and to move away from criminalization of drugs,” Wiener said in a video posted on Twitter.
Research has demonstrated that psychedelic compounds combined with therapy can be effectively used to treat an array of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as substance use disorder, according to SB 519’s text.
But Weiner also hopes the legislation will ultimately help put an end to the war on drugs, saying he doesn’t believe people should be arrested and incarcerated for drug use and possession.
“People can have whatever opinions they want about drugs, but the question is, ‘Should we be arresting and jailing people for possessing and using drugs?’ And I think the answer is absolutely no,” the state senator told KTLA sister station KTXL in Sacramento in early April.
Some cities in the U.S. including Oakland and Santa Cruz, have already effectively decriminalized possession of magic mushrooms. And Oregon voters last year went a step further, approving a ballot measure to decriminalize the personal use of hard drugs in what advocates hailed as “the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date.”
But while the bill has received support from veterans and drug advocacy groups, it also has its share of opposition.
One opponent of the legislation is Tak Allen, the president of the International Faith Based Coalition/Congress of Racial Equality, who previously expressed concerns to KTXL over how the bill was written, as well as certain substances that the measure will decriminalize.
“You’re saying that this is for therapeutic purposes, and the way the bill is written, it’s written more as a recreational bill,” Allen told the station nearly two months ago. “I also had major concerns within my coalition that ketamine is another known date rape drug, and that’s on the list of drugs that they would like to have legalized.”
Allen said she has experienced drug addiction in her family and fears the bill doesn’t address the root causes.
“This is a behavioral health issue and that there is a socioeconomic correlation between drug abuse, drug addiction, drug exposure,” she told KTXL. “Why are we spending our time writing bills to decriminalize something first and foremost before we come up with a technique or tactic that would solve these underlying issues in the first place?”