California Governor Vetoes Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelics

California Governor Vetoes Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelics

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
October 10, 2023
7 min

Update: October 10, 2023

California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill that would decriminalize the possession and personal use of plant-based hallucinogens. Senate Bill 58, which would have allowed those 21 or older, to possess naturally occurring psychedelics like psilocybin, DMT, and mescaline. The bill wouldn’t have legalized the sale of substances.

Here is his full veto statement.

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 58 without my signature.

This bill would, beginning on January 1, 2025, decriminalize the possession, preparation, obtaining, or transportation of specified quantities of mescaline, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), psilocybin, and psilocyn, for personal use by persons 21 years of age or older. This bill would also decriminalize the therapeutic use of the substances following the Legislature’s adoption of a framework governing therapeutic use.

Both peer-reviewed science and powerful personal anecdotes lead me to support new opportunities to address mental health through psychedelic medicines like those addressed in this bill. Psychedelics have proven to relieve people suffering from certain conditions such as depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other addictive personality traits. This is an exciting frontier and California will be on the front-end of leading it.

California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines - replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses. Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it.

I urge the legislature to send me legislation next year that includes therapeutic guidelines. I am, additionally, committed to working with the legislature and sponsors of this bill to craft legislation that would authorize permissible uses and consider a framework for potential broader decriminalization in the future, once the impacts, dosing, best practice, and safety guardrails are thoroughly contemplated and put in place.

Senator Scott Wiener, who authored the bill, won’t stop the fight to focus on the therapeutic uses of psychedelics. “This is a setback for the huge number of Californians — 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 crimimals under California law,” he told The Los Angeles Times.

The veto of Senate Bill 58 is a sad reflection of the country’s stance on drugs, despite major advocacy efforts going toward decriminalization and to end the war on drugs in the last two decades. While this legislation affects the state, there are still some cities in California that may move forward with decriminalizing psychedelics, like Oakland Santa Cruz.

This won’t be the last bill through the California legislature regarding the therapeutic use of psychedelics.

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Update: September 12, 2023

Senate Bill 58, the bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of naturally occurring psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms, has reached its final legislative hurdle. On September 6th, SB 58 was passed by the California State Assembly with a vote of 42 to 11 after being held up for several months. It will now return to the Senate for one final endorsement before proceeding to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for final review. Should it receive approval, SB 58 is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2025.

Several months after California Senator Scott Weiner introduced Senate Bill 58, the Senate Committee of Public Safety had passed the legislative proposal, according to a report by Lucid News. SB 58 was then sent to the House Appropriations Committee for further determination and to decide the appropriate funds to be given following the bill’s approval.

The passing of SB 58 by the Senate came as no surprise, as Senator Weiner had received an agreement in the previous legislative session from the California Police Chiefs Association. However, this agreement was conditional on the new bill not including the decriminalization of synthetic psychedelic substances such as MDMA and LSD.

These substances had been included in Sen. Wiener’s previous legislation SB 519, which had been declined in 2021. As the revised bill progresses through the legislative process, the likelihood of SB 58 passing continues to increase, as does the decriminalization of entheogenic substances in California. However, the bill must go through the governor’s approval before being signed into law.

Though SB 58 has much positive input from state representatives and the public, many people opposed the bill, which could have impacted its ability to pass through the House. The bill was approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee with an overwhelming support of ‘Ayes’ from the committee chairs but received one singular ‘Nay’ from Aisha Wahab, California’s District 10 Democratic State Senator. 

Wahab had been apprehensive that the bill could have a negative impact on individuals under the age of twenty-six who did not have a fully developed brain since the substance would be decriminalized for those eighteen years or older. Furthermore, Senator Wahab felt there was not enough “framework around the mental health component” nor enough planning to prevent psychedelic abuse. Those opposing SB 58 had similar concerns to Sen. Wahab, believing there was insufficient infrastructure and regulation to protect people from the potential harms of psychedelic substances. Originally, SB 519 had proposed for the Department of Public Health to create a committee to aid in research and education for first responders. The section including these safeguards has since been removed during the creation of SB 58 to focus solely on decriminalization efforts.

Sen. Weiner disagrees with the bill’s opposers, noting that decriminalization is the first step in decreasing the dangers of drug use and the war on drugs. He asserts there was no time to wait and develop a regulatory structure, as California residents continued to be incarcerated by the criminal justice system for possessing these naturally occurring substances. 

“If you support criminalizing drug use and possession, then you are not supporting harm reduction,” Sen. Weiner said during a Public Safety Committee hearing. “We push it into the shadows, and we make it less safe, because they’re committing a crime simply by possessing that drug.”

Sen. Weiner feels confident that this new bill will go further than SB 519 did before it was gutted by the Appropriations Committee last year. He has been optimistic that the strong coalition backing up the legislation is enough to get SB 58 finally passed.

Senate Bill 58 May Decriminalize Psychedelics in the State of California

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 serious mental illnesses and chronic health conditions like PTSD, depression, and substance abuse (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.

Overview of Senate Bill 58

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.

Difference Between Decriminalization and Legalization

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.

Cultural and Religious Uses of Psilocybin

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 reach 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 purposes because they are protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows religious exceptions.

While SB 58 aims to decriminalize many natural psychedelics, including mescaline, the bill will continue the criminalization of peyote. The peyote cactus produces mescaline, but it will remain illegal to use and cultivate because of its near-endangered status and deeply rooted spiritual significance to several Native American communities.

If approved, California 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.

Fact Checked: Shannon Ratliff


Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

Table Of Contents

Update: October 10, 2023
Update: September 12, 2023
Senate Bill 58 May Decriminalize Psychedelics in the State of California
Overview of Senate Bill 58
Difference Between Decriminalization and Legalization
Cultural and Religious Uses of Psilocybin

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