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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
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California lawmakers learn from Colorado as they tinker with vetoed psychedelics bill

Next year’s anticipated bill won’t include decriminalization for personal use, Senator Scott Wiener said.

(CN) — A bill written by California Senator Scott Wiener nearly decriminalized “magic mushrooms” in the Golden State.

Senate Bill 58 would have made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess, obtain and transport substances like psilocybin and mescaline for personal use. It also opened the door to the legal, therapeutic use of hallucinogens, which drew strong support from some veterans’ groups.

But the bill didn’t include a regulatory framework with therapeutic guidelines — an omission that ultimately led Governor Gavin Newsom to veto it last month.

Now, the San Francisco Democrat intends to work with Assembly member Marie Waldron, a Valley Center Republican, on a bill next year that addresses the governor’s concerns.

“Per the governor’s message, our bill will focus on providing access to regulated psychedelic therapies administered by licensed and vetted facilitators,” Wiener posted last week on the social media platform X, formerly called Twitter. “The question of decriminalizing personal use & possession will be left for subsequent efforts.”

Wiener’s office declined further comment at this time, saying the senator would give a statement in a month or two.

Wiener’s bill received significant media attention, though Waldron has a similar bill that’s still inching through the legislative process. If passed, Assembly Bill 941 `would allow licensed clinical counselors to administer certain substances to combat veterans as part of their psychedelic-assisted therapy, along with other requirements. The statute is currently held in the Assembly’s Health Committee.

That existing bill could undergo change, becoming narrower or expanding to include first responders, Waldron theorized. Regardless of its future, it’s there if needed.

Waldron said she’s cowritten at least 20 bills with Wiener since 2017, calling it natural for them to work together. She learned about psychedelic therapy after speaking with some Navy SEALs and the post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide rates they face.

There’s been some success with psychedelic therapy in clinical settings with professionals who have the proper training, Waldron said.

“Many of them say they don’t have those thoughts anymore,” she added. “If we could save lives, that’s what it’s all about.”

Waldron wants to gather data. She’s interested in forming a panel composed of experts, first responders and others who would help create standards and guidelines for the use of psychedelics in clinical treatment.

The governor’s veto message gives lawmakers clear direction, Waldron said. Her and Wiener’s future bill won’t be about “magic mushrooms.” Instead, it’ll create a framework that’s narrowly focused and a process under the care of a physician that requires treatment over several months.

Waldron’s existing bill — called the End Veteran Suicide Act — calls for just that. If enacted, it would require psychedelic-assisted therapy to have a minimum of 30 sessions. A therapy session would be a minimum of 12 hours and could run overnight, if needed. Two to three licensed clinical counselors would be required at each session.

For the upcoming bill, Waldron said she will look to Colorado as a model.

“This one that we’re working on will be much more focused,” Waldron said.

Katie O’Donnell, director of communications and public engagement with the Colorado Department of Regularly Agencies, is helping work on that state’s foray into recently legalized, therapeutic psychedelics.

Colorado voters approved the Natural Medicine Health Act of 2022 with 54% of the vote. It allows adults 21 and older to use certain plants or fungi, removing existing criminal penalties. That was followed in May by the passage of a law establishing a regulatory framework, that governed licensing and made rules for safely providing and regulating natural medicine products.

The Colorado Department of Revenue has the job of creating a Natural Medicine Division that will license and regulate aspects of the industry like cultivation, manufacturing and testing. O’Donnell’s department is tasked with licensing the professionals involved in natural medicine therapy.

“There is no retail component,” O’Donnell said. “It’s not allowed.”

It is legal for someone to grow a newly legal psychedelic under the law and give it to someone, O’Donnell said.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies currently is working on its initial recommendations, which it wants to deliver to the department head early next year. Its deadline to be ready to accept applications for wellness centers is January 2025. The first centers are expected to open in spring 2025.

Before then, O’Donnell’s department will gather public comment.

“It’s still a tight deadline, even though it’s been extended,” O’Donnell said.

Democrat Judy Amabile, a Colorado state representative, was one of the prime sponsors of the legislation that created the regulatory framework for her state. She wanted to be involved because she opposed the November 2022 Natural Medicine Health Act ballot measure.

“I thought it was important to have that voice,” she added.

According to Amabile, not enough time has passed to weigh her legislation’s impact. Regulations don’t become effective until 2025, though people already can now grow and use psychedelics.

When asked for recommendations, Amabile advised California lawmakers to maintain control over legalization and not let ballot initiatives craft the law. She would have liked more guardrails on the process.

O’Donnell said the rollout has been confusing for the public. The use of psychedelics has been decriminalized, though wellness centers won’t be up and running until 2025.  

O’Donnell added that any state considering following Colorado’s path should talk to states that have legalized psychedelics and learn from them.

“Surround yourself with folks who have already worked on this,” she added.

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