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California Governor Vetoes Psychedelic Decrim Bill [FEATURE]

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Saturday vetoed a measure that would have decriminalized several natural psychedelics, Senate Bill 58. The substances that would have been decriminalized are psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms), dimethyltryptamine (DMT -- found in ayahusca), and mescaline.

Magic mushrooms. Not this year, California. (Greenoid/Flickr)
The bill would not have allowed for the legal sale of those substances, but it would have ensured that people would not be arrested or jailed for possessing or using the natural psychedelics.

[Editor's Note: This is the second cutting edge drug reform measure Newsom vetoed this year. In August, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed pilot program safe injection sites. One might wonder if he is sacrificing progressive drug reforms on the altar of ambition for national political office.]

In his veto message, Newsom said he was open to exploring the therapeutic benefits of natural psychedelics, but that guiderails needed to put in place first -- and he appeared to give short shrift to any uses other than medicalized therapeutic use.

"Both peer-reviewed science and powerful personal anecdotes lead me to support new opportunities to address mental health through psychedelic medicines like those addressed in this bill," Newsom wrote. "Psychedelics have proven to relieve people suffering from certain conditions such as depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other addictive personality traits. This is an exciting frontier and California will be on the front-end of leading it. California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines -replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses. Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it."

Throwing a sop to the bill's supporters, Newsom urged them to send him a bill next year that includes therapeutic guidelines and added that he was "committed to working with the legislature and sponsors of this bill to craft legislation that would authorize permissible uses and 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."

The California Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education -- a project of the American Legion of California -- opposed the measure and lauded Newsom's veto.

"We're grateful that Gov. Newsom listened to some of the top medical experts, psychedelic researchers and psychiatrists in the country who all warned that legalization without guardrails was at best premature for both personal and therapeutic use," the coalition said Saturday. "Any move toward decriminalization will require appropriate public education campaigns, safety protocols and emergency response procedures to help keep Californians safe."

But bill sponsor Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francico), who spent two year shepherding the bill through the legislature, was not pleased, saying the governor had punted on a chance for the state to lead the nation on psychedelics.

"This is a setback for the huge number of Californians -- including combat veterans and first responders -- who are safely using and benefiting from these non-addictive substances and who will now continue to be classified as criminals under California law," Wiener said in a statement Saturday. "The evidence is beyond dispute that criminalizing access to these substances only serves to make people less safe and reduce access to help."

Wiener added that he would sponsor a new bill next year.

Dr. Bronner's, the California based and family-owned maker of the top-selling natural brand of soap in North America, which helped organize and finance a broad coalition of groups supporting the bill, was also disappointed but hopeful.

"Although the veto of SB 58 is a major disappointment to our coalition and a setback for all who are committed to criminal justice and mental health reform, Gov. Newsom's veto message shows there is still a path forward. Despite this delay, we are confident that we will soon decriminalize and achieve legal access to psychedelics in the state of California," said David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner's and board member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). "I am grateful to Senator Wiener, all those in the CA Senate and Assembly who supported SB 58, as well as all the activists and advocates who worked on this legislation, including our coalition partners."

"Our world is grappling with epidemics of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction that millions suffer from. Natural psychedelic medicines used responsibly are life-saving medicines that the world needs now, especially traumatized populations such as veterans and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities," Bronner continued.

While the governor's veto has blocked the legislative path to psychedelic reform -- at least for now -- California voters may have a chance to do it themselves next year. Campaigns are underway to put two psychedelic initiatives on the ballot in 2024, one that would legalize the sale and use of magic mushrooms by people 21 and over and one that would seek voter approval of a $5 billion expenditure to create a state agency to research psychedelic therapies.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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