California appears to be at an “inflection point” on psychedelics reform, a state senator said last week, noting that wider acceptance of the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin could pave the path for enactment of a revised bipartisan bill he plans to advance in 2024—hopefully with the governor’s support this time following a veto of broader legislation this year.
During a virtual panel organized by the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC), Sen. Scott Wiener (D) described his work on psychedelics issues in the legislature as “a tortured, winding road, as big policy debates often are.” But he’s optimistic that momentum is on the side of reform.
“I really think we are at a potential inflection point, with a broad population [that] is finally understanding the potential benefits of these substances,” he said. “When you look at the polling—and we’ve seen polling in California and nationally—it actually was surprising to me the level of awareness that there is in the state and in the country about the potential benefits of psychedelics.”
He likened the shift in public opinion to marijuana legalization, arguing that there’s increased bipartisan understanding of, and support for, psychedelics reform. “So I think we are coming to that inflection point around psychedelics,” Wiener repeated.
The senator has already advanced two versions of a psychedelics legalization bill in recent sessions, including one that moved though the legislature last session only to be vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in October. Wiener said he understands the governor’s primary contention was with provisions to legalize low-level possession of certain psychedelics, so he’s planning to craft new bipartisan legislation for the 2024 session that focuses on therapeutic uses.
“I personally continue to be of the strong view that we should not be arresting and prosecuting people for possessing and using these substances—that is not an actual productive way of making them safer—but it is what it is. It’s water under the bridge,” Wiener said, adding that he’s “grateful” that the governor’s veto message for his bill this year offered a “path forward and that he wanted to work with the legislature on a therapeutic bill for psychedelics.”
Newsom did specifically leave the door open to working with lawmakers to “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.”
“I’m really excited about the possibility of building a really broad, strong coalition and, I hope, sending a therapeutics bill to the governor,” Wiener said.
The senator announced last month that the revised legislation he’s working on will be introduced alongside Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R), a former minority leader of the GOP caucus.
The veto of SB 58 still came as a significant disappointment to advocates, many of whom felt that the measure had already been effectively vetted and revised over two sessions. They’ve pointed out that Newsom has historically championed drug policy reform, including marijuana legalization before it enjoyed widespread bipartisan support.
During Friday’s event, Marijuana Moment asked Wiener whether he had any concerns that filing a dialed-back version of the psychedelics measure without legalization components would incite opposition from the coalition that supported his broader reform proposal.
“Many of us were disappointed with the governor’s decision to veto SB 58,” he said. “But as millions of Californians continue to suffer from our unprecedented mental health crisis, it’s imperative that we remain focused on delivering as much relief as we can from breakthrough treatments like psychedelic therapy.”
“Many of the coalition partners who partnered with us on SB 58 are on board with this new effort, and we’re adding new partners as well to bring psychedelic therapies to Californians in the therapeutic context,” the senator said, signaling that there might be some level of pushback among certain original partners.
Newsom also vetoed harm reduction legislation sponsored by Wiener last year that would have established a pilot program for overdose prevention sites in the state.
Meanwhile, the campaign behind a prospective California ballot initiative to legalize psychedelics filed a final revised measure with state officials last week, making a handful of changes to the proposal following a public comment period that ended late last month.
While adults would be allowed to legally grow, possess and use substances like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline under the measure, they would need physician recommendations to purchase the psychedelics at regulated stores.
A separate ballot proposal, meanwhile, would legalize psilocybin, including adult-use sales. That measure, backed by the group Decriminalize California, recently got approval from state officials to begin collecting signatures. Activists have tried twice to put the reform on the ballot in prior cycles, but they’ve come up short due in large part to signature gathering complications during the pandemic.
Another California campaign withdrew its proposed ballot initiative to create a $5 billion state agency tasked with funding and promoting psychedelics research last month, citing polling that advocates say led them to reevaluate whether to put resources into the effort.
Some California municipalities, meanwhile, are pushing forward with reform on the local level. The city of Eureka, for example, adopted a resolution in October to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi and make enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change. Others include San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Arcata.