California Senator Launches Bid to Decriminalize Psychedelics

State Senator Scott Wiener says the war on drugs has failed and many psychedelic drugs have proven medical purposes. 

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

(CN) — If California state Senator Scott Wiener has his way, the Golden State will soon decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. 

The San Francisco Democrat introduced Senate Bill 519, which he says is necessary to reverse the draconian regulations related to psychedelic drugs leftover from the War on Drugs era, particularly given that recent research demonstrates these substances can be useful in treating depression and other medical conditions. 

“Policy should be based on science and common sense, not fear and stigma,” Wiener said in a statement. “The War on Drugs and mass incarceration are destructive and failed policies, and we must end them.”

The bill would include decriminalizing several drugs that are currently listed as Schedule 1 controlled substances by the federal government — including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, DMT, MDMA, ibogaine and mescaline. 

Public perception of these drugs has shifted dramatically recently, as the stigma associated with them has been replaced with an increasing medical consensus that these drugs could serve a purpose if administered responsibly. 

In 2018 and 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a “Breakthrough Therapy” distinction to psilocybin after researchers found the drug, commonly found in “magic mushrooms,” was shown to reduce untreatable depression in patients during two separate controlled trials. 

Dr. David Kelly, a medical doctor who provides end-of-life care for terminally ill patients, said he uses psychedelic therapy to help patients cope with the end of their lives. 

“I am a strong advocate for the safe and judicious use of psychedelic-assisted therapies in the appropriate setting for patients with chronic and terminal illnesses,” Kelly said. “There is now ample evidence from clinical trials completed over the last decade showing that psilocybin is safe and remarkably effective in relieving anxiety and depression in this patient population.”

It’s not only psilocybin. 

MDMA was shown in a clinical trial to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder for war veterans, police officers and firefighters. 

Wiener’s bill is co-sponsored by Heroic Hearts Project, an organization that connects military veterans with organizations offering psychedelic-based therapy. 

“We all must come together to stand up for those that have put their lives on the line for this country,” said Heroic Hearts Project founder, Jesse Gould. “Psychedelic-assisted treatments have the potential to save countless veteran lives and we as American citizens have an obligation to listen to the needs of these warriors.”

Wiener’s bill comes amid a push by activists to put the legalization of psilocybin before voters on the 2022 ballot. A group called Decriminalize California said they will only begin collecting signatures if the legislative efforts fail. 

The bill is co-sponsored by a handful of Democratic Assembly members, including Evan Low from San Jose, Sydney Kamlager from Los Angeles and Bill Quirk from Hayward.

“This bill is part of a larger push to end the failed War on Drugs, which has disproportionately harmed underserved communities of color,” Low said. 

Pysecedlics have been decriminalized in cities throughout the United States, including Washington, Oakland and Santa Cruz, California. Oregon decriminalized the class of mind-altering substances as part of a broader effort to remove criminal punishments for the possession of a whole range of scheduled substances. 

Wiener said decriminalization is important as society reckons with the policies instituted in the 1980s and early 1990s during the so-called War on Drugs. By treating drug addiction like a criminal issue with law enforcement and prison sentences as the solution, the War on Drugs filled the nation’s prisons but did little to reduce use or stop the flow of drugs into the United States. 

“Drug decriminalization is a necessary first step to repairing the harms from the decades-long public health disaster of the War on Drugs,” said Natalie Ginsberg, director of policy & advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Criminalization has failed to deter drug use  over the last 50 years, drug use has actually increased. However, in countries like Portugal where drug policies have shifted from a criminal justice to a public health centered approach, drug-related deaths and illnesses have dropped dramatically,” Ginsberg said.

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