Bills of 2023: Newsom vetoes bill to decriminalize psychedelic drugs

Politics and government

Editor’s note: As 2023 draws to a close, The Signal is presenting CalMatters’ wrap-up stories on some of the key bills that reached the governor’s desk at the close of the 2023 legislative session. Here’s the CalMatters summary of Senate Bill 58, which would have decriminalized certain psychedelic drugs. 

By Ana B. Ibarra 
CalMatters Writer 

Senate Bill 58, by Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, would ensure that people are not arrested or penalized for using and possessing certain plant-based hallucinogens starting in 2025.  

The substances include psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms; mescaline (except peyote); and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT.  

A fourth substance, ibogaine, was scratched from the bill in a final round of amendments. This bill applies only to people 21 and older and would not legalize the sale of psychedelics.  

The bill takes a more incremental approach for supervised medical use of psychedelics. It would require the state’s health agency to form a working group to make recommendations for governing the future therapeutic use of these substances. 

Who Supports It 

The bill was sponsored by a veterans’ group, Heroic Hearts Project. Combat veterans and retired first responders have testified in support of the bill, sharing their “transformational” experiences using psychedelics to help relieve suicidal thoughts and PTSD symptoms.   

Who Is Opposed  

Registered opposition was largely made up of law enforcement groups. Mothers who have lost a child to an adverse reaction after they ingested hallucinogens have also testified about their concerns during hearings. They’ve pushed for the bill to include more safeguards, arguing that while these substances may promise benefits for some people, they also come with risks.  

Why It Matters  

If Gov. Gavin Newsom were to sign this bill, California would join Colorado and Oregon in decriminalizing psychedelics. The current movement to make these substances mainstream is one attempt to help alleviate the ballooning mental health crisis.  

Growing research portrays the drugs as a promising tool in helping people heal from various mental illnesses, including depression and PTSD. But evidence is still limited and no psychedelic treatment has yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  

Governor’s Call 

Newsom announced Oct. 7 he vetoed the bill. In his veto message, he said that the state needs more guidelines before legalization.  

“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.” 

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