February 21, 2024
The movement to legalize psychedelics in California appears to be entering a new phase, with a focus on incremental steps to permit the drugs in therapeutic settings following failed efforts to pass more sweeping change.

An initiative that sought to ask voters to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms and products containing psilocybin failed to qualify for the 2024 ballot when it missed last week’s deadline to submit signatures. That followed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto last year of a bill that would have decriminalized a short list of natural psychedelics, including “magic mushrooms.”

Now, the Legislature is considering much narrower approaches. A bill expected to be introduced in the coming weeks will call for legalizing psychedelic-assisted therapy, while a bill that passed the Assembly health committee last week would fund a work group to study the benefits and dangers of psychedelic therapy.

“As we know, California is experiencing a severe mental health crisis,” Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R-San Diego) said during the hearing Tuesday.

“Having the data will help us legislate good policy regarding the use of psychedelics in clinical settings. These therapies have the potential to save countless lives.”

In vetoing last year’s bill to decriminalize psychedelics, Newsom said he wants the state to craft “regulated treatment guidelines” instead of broadly sanctioning the use of the drugs. He suggested California “immediately begin work” on that.

Testifying alongside Waldron on Tuesday was state Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who wrote the psychedelics bill Newsom vetoed.

“Assemblymember Waldron and I are partnering together this year in the space of psychedelic therapy,” Wiener told the committee. “Later this month or early February we will introduce a Senate bill to legalize and create the structure of psychedelic-assisted therapy in line with the governor’s veto message.”

Waldron emphasized that her bill would not decriminalize psychedelics and that no one would be treated by psychedelics if passed. She also pointed to Oregon and Colorado, two states that have already decriminalized the drugs, saying it’s time for California to “step up.”

“What we need is a foundation to get all of that put together in one place. So this work group would be comprised of folks who are working in clinical settings,” Waldron said.

Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), who is an obstetrician-gynecologist, asked what she meant by “clinical setting.”

“The lingo you’re saying is tripping me up,” Weber said, asking for clarification several times on what exactly the group would be studying and whether it would be randomized controlled trials or relying on anecdotes. Weber was also skeptical about the timeline specified in the bill that would require the work group to conclude by 2026.

Similarly, Pilar Schiavo (D-Chatsworth), who didn’t support Wiener’s bill last year, said it was “unclear” who would be conducting the work group studies.

Outside of the Capitol, a ballot measure launched by Decriminalize California has been pitching voters “a world where anyone can cultivate, manufacture, distribute, possess, transport, and consume an unlimited amount of magic mushrooms or psilocybin-containing products without fear of any criminal charges.” It failed to meet a Jan. 10 deadline to submit 546,651valid signatures needed to get on the statewide ballot in November.

The campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Times.

A different initiative that calls for creating a state agency to regulate psychedelics — including psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, MDMA, ketamine and cannabis — and finance research into their therapeutic uses is still gathering signatures in hopes of landing on the November ballot. It faces a March 20 deadline to submit 874,641 valid signatures.