Newsom vetoes bill to decriminalize ‘magic mushrooms’ and other psychedelics in California

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ANABEL SOSA | CONTRIBUTOR

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill Saturday that would have decriminalized the possession and personal use of a short list of natural psychedelics, including “magic mushrooms.”

The Democratic governor said that while he supports “new opportunities to address mental health through psychedelic medicines like those addressed in this bill,” the state needs to establish regulations for the use of these substances before they are legalized.

“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,” Newsom said in his veto statement. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, said the veto “is not the end of our fight,” and pledged to reintroduce legislation for next year that would focus on the therapeutic use of the psychedelics, as Newsom requested.

“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. “Today’s veto is a huge missed opportunity for California to follow the science and lead.”

Wiener previously told The Times that the state lacks reliable data on arrests for possession of psychedelics because of outdated data collection practices, which as a result “unfairly lumps psychedelics in with other controlled substances like meth and heroin, despite the fact that psychedelics are not addictive.” The governor’s veto of the legislation, Senate Bill 58, is another blow to criminal justice reform advocates who’ve spent the last two years lobbying the Legislature to end the “war on drugs” and reduce criminal penalties for possessing and using certain psychedelics, and to veterans groups that want to see broader access to psychedelics for veterans living with post-traumatic stress and other mental health disorders.

“The response from the veterans community is overwhelming sadness and frustration,” Jesse Gould, a veteran Army Ranger and founder of Heroic Hearts, told The Times. He added that despite this defeat, veterans have “faced worse” and that the community will continue to “fight to provide access to life-changing treatments for all Californians.”

The bill would have decriminalized the possession and personal use of psilocybin and psilocin, the active ingredients in psychedelic mushrooms; mescaline; and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a key compound in the psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca, which is often used for spiritual or religious purposes. The law would have applied only to people 21 or older. The bill also did not permit the personal transfer or sale of psychedelics in dispensaries. The bill also would have mandated that the California Health and Human Services Agency study the therapeutic use of psychedelics and submit a report with findings and recommendations to the Legislature.

The veto marks a stark deviation from Newsom’s liberal image. Newsom was a strong advocate of Proposition 64, a 2016 ballot measure he championed as lieutenant governor that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California. But it also underscores the mounting challenges he faces seven years later amid a ballooning homelessness and drug addiction crisis in the state.

Last year, Newsom also vetoed Senate Bill 57, another controversial measure with Wiener as its author that would have authorized a pilot program for supervised injection sites in some California cities. At the time, Newsom said the bill could have induced “a world of unintended consequences.” Dr. Anna Lembke, a professor at Stanford who raised concerns years ago over the rise in opioid prescriptions, shares those concerns about decriminalizing psychedelics.

Lembke said SB 58 would have sent “a message of normalization” and encouraged more unsupervised and dangerous use of the mind-altering drugs. “We know that when people have the perception that a drug is safe, use in the population increases,” said Lembke, who also raised concern over the limited research on the health consequences of using psychedelics. “When it comes to hallucinogens or psychedelics, there are lots of known harms and they’re incredibly unpredictable,” she said.

Opponents of the bill included a long list of law enforcement groups concerned with public safety issues and psychedelics skeptics in the medical field. Jennifer Mitchell, a professor of neurology at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, who has worked on developing psychedelic therapeutics for several psychiatric conditions, including psilocybin for demoralization and depression, was against the bill. “My biggest concern is that it seeks to decriminalize personal use before developing an infrastructure that would ensure safety and education,” she said.

She added that had the measure passed, California would see “more adolescent use than we already do because it will give [them] a green light.” Despite Newsom’s rejection, some cities in California may move forward with their own local laws to decriminalize psychedelics. Santa Cruz and Oakland have already implemented their own measures to make the arrests or investigations relating to possession or use of the drugs the lowest priority for police.

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