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Psychedelics in California: A Missed Opportunity for Mental Health under SB-519

by Roger Tower on October 11, 2023
Psychedelics in California: A Missed Opportunity for Mental Health under SB-519

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent veto of a bill aimed at decriminalizing the possession and personal use of certain hallucinogens, including psychedelic mushrooms, has left many advocates and enthusiasts disheartened.

This legislation, which ultimately didn’t become law, sought to permit individuals aged 21 and older to possess psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, alongside dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and mescaline.

However, many passionately argue that the decriminalization of these substances could bring about a host of benefits for the citizens of California and potentially set a precedent for the rest of the United States.

Let’s delve into some of the reasons why many believe that the bill’s passage would have been a step in the right direction for the well-being of the people.

1. Mental Health Advancements

Recent studies and clinical trials have unveiled the promising potential of psychedelics in addressing various mental health conditions. In particular, psilocybin has been labeled a “breakthrough therapy” by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for treating individuals suffering from treatment-resistant depression. For Californians grappling with mental health challenges, the bill’s passage could have been a beacon of hope, opening the door to alternative treatment options.

“Psilocybin gave me my life back,” shared Joe McKay, a retired New York City firefighter who responded to the 9/11 attacks. “No one should go to jail for using this medicine to try to heal.” These powerful words spoken at an Assembly hearing in July underscore the profound impact of psychedelic therapy on individuals like McKay, whose experiences point toward the therapeutic potential of these substances.”

2. Relief for Veterans and Trauma Survivors

Many military veterans and trauma survivors have attested to the transformative effects of psychedelics in addressing their post-traumatic stress and other psychological wounds. These substances have offered a path to healing and recovery for individuals who have sacrificed so much for their country. Decriminalization would have provided them with safer access to these therapeutic options.

3. Public Support and Shifting Attitudes

Public opinion regarding the use of psychedelics has evolved significantly over the years. While these substances were historically associated with the counterculture movements of the 1960s, a growing body of research and personal testimonies has led to a more open-minded and supportive perspective. The bill’s passage would have reflected the changing attitudes of the public, which increasingly recognizes the therapeutic potential of these substances.

The Federal Drug Administration’s recognition of psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” and its recent draft guideline on using psychedelics in clinical trials highlight the shifting stance toward these substances in the realm of healthcare and medicine.

4. Reduction in Harm

Research indicates that decriminalization of drug possession does not lead to increased crime rates. By decriminalizing the possession of limited quantities of plant-based hallucinogens, the bill aimed to divert law enforcement resources away from non-violent drug offenses and reduce the harm caused by the criminalization of drug use. It would have focused efforts on harm reduction and public health, rather than punitive measures.

Organizations representing parents expressed concerns that the legislation might make it easier for children and young individuals to access these substances. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that studies have shown that decriminalization does not result in higher crime rates.

5. Opportunity for Scientific Research

The bill would have facilitated further scientific research on the therapeutic uses of psychedelic substances. It required the California Health and Human Services Agency to study and provide recommendations to lawmakers, contributing to a deeper understanding of these substances and their potential benefits. This research could have paved the way for evidence-based treatment guidelines and protocols.

6. Leading the Nation

California has often been at the forefront of progressive policies. By decriminalizing these substances, the state would have set an example for the rest of the nation, potentially encouraging other states to explore similar legislation. This could have ushered in a new era of innovative mental health treatment options across the United States.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the author of the bill, expressed disappointment with the governor’s veto, describing it as a missed opportunity for California to follow the scientific evidence and lead the nation. He pledged to introduce new legislation in the future, emphasizing the need to make these substances more accessible for those who could benefit from their therapeutic properties.


Conclusion on SB 519 Veto

While Governor Newsom’s veto represents a temporary setback for those advocating the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, it remains a symbol of hope for many who believe in these substances’ capacity to heal and transform lives. Though the bill may not have passed this time, it keeps the door open for future legislation aimed at unlocking these benefits for US citizens.

In conclusion, it’s clear that the decriminalization of psychedelic substances carries significant potential benefits for the well-being of the people. It offers new avenues for mental health treatment, relief for veterans and trauma survivors, and a shift in public attitudes toward these substances. Furthermore, it could reduce harm and pave the way for scientific research that informs evidence-based treatment guidelines. Though the bill may not have passed this time, it remains a symbol of hope for many who believe in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.


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