Soon, psychedelics may be decriminalized in California. That is if Senate Bill 58 is passed. So far, only Oregon and Colorado have legalized psilocybin, while few local governments in California have decriminalized it. This bill would decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin along with other naturally occurring psychedelic substances such as DMT and mescaline.
Indigenous people have used hallucinogenic substances for centuries, and scientists have concluded that psychedelics can be used as Breakthrough Therapy to treat mental health disorders like PTSD, depression, and addiction (1). As new information spreads about these drugs’ medical and cultural uses, we are starting to see a shift in how America views psychedelics. Time, money, and law enforcement resources have been used to uphold Federal laws regarding drugs and their classifications, including psychedelics like psilocybin. However, this bill is yet another small push to end the “war on drugs” in California.
In 2021, California Senator Scott Weiner introduced Senate Bill 519, which aimed to decriminalize a more extensive list of psychedelic substances like MDMA and LSD. Though this bill passed through Senate and was approved by the General Assembly, state legislature required amendments that excluded decriminalization efforts. Senate Bill 519 was put on hold until December 2022, as Senator Weiner introduced Senate Bill 58, which, according to the bill summary, excludes any man-made hallucinogens from decriminalization efforts.
To quote the bill text:
“This bill would make lawful the possession, preparation, obtaining, transfer, as specified, or transportation of, specified quantities of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline, for personal use or facilitated or supported use, as defined, by and with persons 21 years of age or older”.
Ultimately, the remaining psychedelic drugs will continue to be classified under California law as controlled substances. By only decriminalizing natural psychedelics, the new bill has a higher likelihood of being approved for making it to the state capitol.
For Senate Bill 58 to pass, it will require several rounds of review from different committees to determine whether or not the bill should become law. The bill will go through multiple readings, but if it exceeds the third reading and is approved by the house, Senate Bill 58 will be sent to the governor to accept, decline, or amend the bill. If the governor decides to decline the bill, each house requires a two-thirds vote to reject the veto.
Now, keep in mind this bill only decriminalizes certain substances. Decriminalization does not necessarily mean legal. Through legalization, an adult can use a drug without any legal consequences. However, decriminalization simply reduces the harsh penalties previously given to those caught with the drug in their possession. As a result, fines may be given as a misdemeanor charge, somewhat like a parking ticket, but no arrests or jail time will be issued.
If Senate Bill 58 passes, naturally occurring psychedelic substances will still be considered illegal federally and in the state of California.
The Controlled Substances Act classified psilocybin as an illegal Schedule I drug in 1970. Before its criminalization, the psychedelic substance held cultural significance for indigenous people in America, from the Amazonian rainforests to the Great Plains. For hundreds of years, indigenous shamans have used mushrooms containing psilocybin medicinally, spiritually, and recreationally. As psilocybin treatment and decriminalization reaches more popularity, we should discuss these topics by giving credit to the original users of the medicine. Psilocybin is not a new technology, but rather a naturally existing compound with a long history of usage.
Though this medicine is an effective treatment, advocates argue that we should give recognition to those who originally taught us about it to avoid the appropriation of indigenous knowledge. Carolyn Gregoire of Neo Life notes, “Many medicinal plants, as well as Native knowledge, were treated as open-access resources, attainable by whoever was sufficiently charming, clever, or, if need be, cruel.”
These practices continue today as many entheogenic religions utilize psilocybin for ritual and religious ceremonies. Despite its illegality, psilocybin can be used by those who practice psychedelics for religious purposed because they are protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows religious exceptions.
Currently, we do not know the effective date of this bill, if any, because drug decriminalization and classification is a difficult political topic that not all agree on. The bill remains up for judiciary review. Still, if approved, the California gov will be one step closer to lowering drug scheduling classifications for potentially life-saving drugs. With less strict classification laws, psychedelic substances like psilocybin can be studied more in-depth as a treatment option, and culturally significant medicines will no longer be treated as illegal.
1.) Coppola, Maurizio, Francesco Bevione, and Raffaella Mondola. 2022. “Psilocybin for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychonaut Legend or a Promising Therapeutic Perspective?” Journal of Xenobiotics 12 (1): 41–52. https://doi.org/10.3390/jox12010004.