For the past few months, California has been discussing a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of all psychedelic drugs. In February, Senator Scott Weiner introduced SB519, which would reform sentencing for possession and use of psychedelics. Some substances include LSD, MDMA, ibogaine, and non-peyote-derived mescaline for adults over 21. The bill would also allow the cultivation of certain natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin mushrooms and plants that contain DMT.
Like psychedelic bills in other states and DC, state bill 519 would also allow adults to give themselves psychedelics freely. For this reason, Bill’s journey over the past six months has been difficult. It exposed deep disagreements in the advocacy community while trying to find a solution that works for everyone, protects people’s ability to consent, and doesn’t turn psychedelics into a business situation.
The proposal passed the state Senate in May. All of the groups involved in preparing him for a vote agree that they want to end the war on drugs and make access to these widely available drugs safer. They also agree that there is a cultural and therapeutic use of psychedelics that have potential healing value.
Many advocates argue that psychedelics should be completely legal – free to use, grow, and share. They have been shown to reactivate parts of the brain and help people cope with post-traumatic stress, depression and other mental illnesses. They have also been shown to be useful in end-of-life care and addiction recovery. Legalizing psychedelics would also ensure more transparent practices regarding the sale and use of drugs.
Others turn to models like Initiative 81 in DC, which decriminalized plant-derived psychedelics and opened the floodgates for the “donation” of psychedelics similar to their cannabis model. Although dispensaries aren’t allowed to operate in DC, you can buy an overpriced t-shirt or sticker and get weed, shrooms, or DMT for free.
However, most proponents are entirely skeptical of the business model. “The goal of SB 519 is to stop criminalizing people for personal and collective use of psychedelics. It also creates the potential for a regulated therapy program,” said Ben Unger of New Approach PAC. “We never considered or aimed for a business model.”
Looking at the effects of the full decriminalization of drugs in Oregon in Measure 110, most SB519 proponents agree that there is a need for health centers rather than criminal law enforcement. Some argue that California should use a structure similar to the Oregon model to protect people’s rights and keep them safe while under the influence of psychedelics.
With that comes its own set of problems, however. Psychedelics aren’t just like “cannabis but stronger”. They can be completely disabling. Joseph Holcomb Adams, bioethicist and educator, cares about people and psychedelics with social sharing and ease of use. “These drugs are incapacitating in the sense that you can’t make medical decisions, you can’t give consent. [They] induce extreme suggestibility in people, which makes them very, very vulnerable to all kinds of influences, however subtle.
In a bioethical sense, this means “that participation leaves the client-participant or patient in a place where they are vulnerable,” to manipulation, indoctrination, or even sexual assault. “I really believe in cognitive freedom, but that’s where I draw the line.”
Ultimately, there is still work to be done around State Bill 519 and many arguments to consider. Further action on the bill is expected in the coming months. It is before the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is expected to be implemented by the end of the month. If adopted by the committee, it goes to the plenary assembly, where it will either be voted on or postponed to the following year.
Successes in other cities and states have shown that decriminalizing psychedelics can be done safely. Since amendments can be made at any time with the consent of the Senate, there is a good chance that California will be the next state to completely decriminalize all psychedelics. What are your views?
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