California Edges Towards Decriminalizing Psychedelics With New Legislation

The move towards decriminalizing psychedelics in the US and beyond has been driven by a number of different forces. Image credit: Yarygin/Shutterstock.com

California is edging towards the legalization of a bunch of psychedelic drugs.

On Tuesday, June 1, California passed Senate Bill 519, a bill that legalizes the personal possession of certain psychedelic substances, including psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, LSD, ketamine, and MDMA. It does not decriminalize the sale of psychedelics. To be signed into law, the bill still has to be passed by the House and get the final thumbs up from California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

A wealth of evidence has emerged in recent years showing how psychedelic drugs have the potential to treat an array of mental health problems. Not only does this bill hope to make these treatments more accessible, but it also aims to take a strong step towards ending the “racist War on Drugs and its failed and destructive policies,” in the words of Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) who wrote the legislation.

“Psychedelics show great promise in helping people deal with complex trauma, depression, anxiety, and addiction,” Senator Wiener said in a press release.

“It makes no sense to criminalize the use of psychedelics. The War on Drugs has failed us, and criminalizing these substances doesn’t make anyone safer. It’s time to move away from failed drug criminalization policies and toward a science- and health-based approach. SB 519 passing the California Senate is a huge milestone for this legislation, and I am thrilled that more and more people are seeing the benefits of decriminalizing psychedelics.”

In California, Santa Cruz and Oakland are two cities that have previously passed bills that decriminalize the personal use of psychedelics. Denver in Colorado also took this step back in 2019.

As touched on earlier, the move towards decriminalizing psychedelics in the US and beyond has been driven by a number of different forces. The failure and hypocrisies of the “war on drugs” is a big one. Far from making communities safer and healthier, the policy has only deepened inequalities and unjustly targeted marginalized groups. 

Another big factor is the emerging science that has highlighted the potential medical uses of psychedelics. A seemingly endless reel of recent studies has shown that certain psychedelics, – most notably psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and MDMA  could potentially be used to treat mental health problems, namely anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance addictions. Furthermore, most psychedelic drugs are considered to be significantly less harmful – at an individual and societal level – than most other recreational drugs, including legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol.  

As such, the recent moves in California have been projected as a move away from the heavy-handed criminalization approach and a step towards a science-based way of treating drugs. 

"The War on Drugs has failed. Let’s take a science-based approach to drugs," tweeted Senator Wiener.

 


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