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Lawmaker’s proposal to decriminalize psychedelics in California gains momentum

By Kiet Do

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    SACRAMENTO (KPIX) — A Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would decriminalize the personal possession of several psychedelic drugs begins winding its way through the California State Assembly this week.

Senate Bill 519 by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) begins Assembly hearings in the Committee on Public Safety, at 9am Tuesday. The bill passed the State Senate on a 21-16 floor vote.

If approved, SB519 “would make lawful the possession for personal use…social sharing”, psilocybins, MDMA, LSD, DMT, mescaline and ibogaine. The bill would also create a task force to advise lawmakers about regulation.

At a Monday press conference, Wiener, the bill’s main author, stressed it would only apply to adults.

“And I want to say there’s been a lot of deliberate misinformation about this bill,” Wiener said. “We need to be very ,very clear. This bill this is not about children, this is about people 21 and older.”

Wiener said the push for the legalization is twofold: to assist military veterans coping with PTSD and other mental health issues, and to “end the failed War on Drugs.”

“The racist War on Drugs, which has fueled mass incarceration and torn apart communities, particularly communities of color, but not made us any safer, the War on Drugs needs to end,” the senator said. “People are using drugs right now, and we want them to be able to use drugs in a safe way where they’re not in the shadows, where they’re not stigmatized.”

Jesse Gould, a former Army Ranger, and founder of Heroic Hearts Project, has been advocating for psychedelic therapy for veterans since 2017.

“I turned to psychedelics as a last ditch effort to survive. And fortunately, it worked amazingly well,” said Gould. “I will say this unequivocally psychedelics have, and will, save veteran lives.”

Juliana Mercer, Marine Corps veteran, said psilocybin therapy caused her grief “to completely disappear”.

“I got to re-meet my authentic self, and I became joyful and full of love again. And able to continue serving and helping my fellow brothers and sisters, transition to be successful in their own civilian lives,” said Mercer.

On May 26, during a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health testified about the ongoing clinical trials of psychedelic drugs.

“I just mentioned one, which is psilocybin, which is now being tried in no less than three randomized controlled trials for depression, and is showing signal there of potential interest. And that could be quite exciting because we are looking for new approaches to that,” said Collins.

In neighboring Oregon, a state law which decriminalized possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and other drugs took effect in February.

Santa Cruz, Oakland, Denver, and Washington D.C., have all decriminalized psychedelic drugs within the past year or so.

The bill has also drawn opponents. “No on SB519”, a coalition of law enforcement, victims’ advocates, and activists, blasted the bill, calling it irresponsible and reckless.

“We are spending far too much time writing lazy policy that slaps a band aid on drug use, as opposed to writing policies that aid in behavioral health issues, like nutrition, access to job resources, access to family care,” said Tak Allen, President of International Faith Based Coalition and Congress of Racial Equality.

“I don’t need science to tell me that this is a stupid and dangerous piece of legislation,” said Nina Salarno Besselman, Crime Victims United of California. “SB519 is akin to fixing the problem of too many red lights out in our streets, by removing them altogether.”

“But if there are any significant scientific findings that these drugs’ benefits outweigh the possible harm, the FDA should have already removed them from the controlled substance list. The fact that they have not, says it all,” said Frank Lee, President of Organization for Justice and Equality.

“Where people are dying on the streets of California from drug overdoses at massive rates, one has to ask Senator Wiener, is this really a good idea?” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

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