Two identical bills that would have made MDMA, or ecstasy, a Schedule I drug in California and made being under the influence of ecstasy a misdemeanor with a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence, have run into rough water this week. A subcommittee vote killed the Senate version outright, while the sponsors of the Assembly version have stripped it of its "under the influence" provision.
The introduction of the bills incited quick and intense opposition from a range of groups, including the Alchemind Society's Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (http://www.alchemind.org), the Drug Reform Alliance, the scientific community and others. Nearly 1,000 people used a DRCNet web site to send e-mail and faxes to their state senators, assemblymembers and the governor in a one week period.
According to an Alchemind news alert now available at the web site, a senate subcommittee killed the bill on a 3-2 vote after hearing from Richard Glen Boire, attorney for the center; MDMA researcher Dr. Charles Grob; and a representatives of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the state's largest criminal defense bar association. Grob, who led the first FDA- approved study of MDMA and is currently Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told the senate subcommittee that making ecstasy a Schedule I drug in California could hinder research. He also criticized the "under the influence" provision, telling the senators the risk of a 3-month mandatory jail sentence could deter ecstasy users from seeking medical help in the event of problems.
Suburban Los Angeles Senator Bob Margett (R-District), the author of the bill, portrayed it as protecting young people from themselves, whom he claimed were incapable of making rational choices about drug use. But Alchemind's Boire told the lawmakers the same thing he told DRCNet last week: that throwing young people in jail for 90 days, ripping them from their schools, jobs, and families, hardly seemed helpful. In his testimony, he also stressed issues of personal freedom and responsibility and decried the bills as creating "a thought crime."
But while the senate stopped the bill in its tracks, the new, stripped-down assembly bill managed to pass its first hurdle with a 5-1 vote in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety. Perhaps members were swayed by alarmist rhetoric from Assemblywoman Lynne Leach (R-District 15), the bill's author. Leach told her audience she was worried about the risk facing kids who try "to get off the drug cold turkey, and die." The assembly bill, which is now reduced only to the rescheduling provision, next heads to the appropriations committee.
(Visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/219.html for last week's article and editorial on this topic. Visit our action alert site on this issue at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/ca-ecstasy/ online.)