California’s psychedelic decriminalisation bill, SB-58, was passed with amendments by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Its amended version will now head to the assembly floor for a final vote before going to the Governor’s desk.
The bill was passed as part of the California Assembly Appropriations Committee’s ‘suspense day’, whereby bills placed on the suspense file have their fate sealed. It was passed on a B roll vote, meaning Democrats supported the bill.
(Editor’s note: the suspense file is a feature of California’s appropriations committee whereby if the cost of a bill exceeds a certain amount it is eligible to be placed on this file. Then, twice a year, the committee leafs through hundreds of bills (this year’s suspense file had 276) without discussion or deliberation, passing or holding bills as they go. The results of these private deliberations are announced by the chair. You can learn more about this practice via the committee’s website or this explainer on CapRadio.)
The most consequential element to understand now will be the extent of the amendments. An earlier psychedelic decriminalisation bill forwarded by the same lawmaker, Senator Scott Wiener, was gutted by this very committee.
Senate Bill 58, titled Controlled substances: decriminalization of certain hallucinogenic substances, was introduced in December 2022 and—as the name suggests—would decriminalise certain natural psychedelics. Specifically, the Bill covers “specified quantities of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline, for personal use, as defined, by and with persons 21 years of age or older.” Mindful of issues pertaining to ecological and cultural sustainability, peyote is specifically excluded.
As the Bill worked its way through committees, certain elements were amended. Notably, lawmakers added a stipulation that would require the California Health and Human Services Agency to assemble a workgroup that would make recommendations on establishing a framework to govern therapeutic and facilitated or supported use of these plant-based psychedelics. Those recommendations would be due by January 1, 2025.
The Bill is not the first psychedelics-related effort forwarded by Wiener. In February 2021, the Senator introduced Senate Bill 519 which would have effectively decriminalised the same drugs as SB-58, but also MDMA, LSD and ketamine. Ketamine was quickly struck from the list following a committee amendment, while the Senate removed language that would have dismissed and sealed prior drug convictions that would no longer be unlawful under the terms of the Bill.
Despite making it out of the Senate in a 21-16 vote, SB-519 was ultimately gutted by the Assembly Appropriations Committee in August 2022. Despite passing the committee in a 9-5 vote, the do pass vote was conditional on its amendments. These amendments proved unworkable, as they effectively turned a decriminalisation bill into one that suggests that a ‘study’ be commissioned to investigate the ramifications of any such action: i.e., a psychedelic decriminalisation feasibility study. In response to the gutting of SB-519, Senator Wiener’s office announced that the Bill would be withdrawn and a similar effort mounted in 2023.
Senator Wiener’s renewed effort, SB-58, hopes to curry more favour by removing synthetic psychedelics such as MDMA and LSD, which were both included in 519.
Extent of Amendments Remains Unclear
However, the bill has again been heavily amended by the Appropriations Committee. Details are scarce, but the chair noted a few high-level points including the fact that the bill has been amended “to strike provisions regarding transfer of substance, modify provisions decriminalising therapeutic use, make other amendments to delay decriminalisation of personal use, to reduce personal possession amounts among other changes.”
These amendments could compromise the primary purpose of the bill, which is to decriminalise the personal use of certain psychedelic plants and fungi. If that’s the case, it could face the same fate as SB-519.
It’s not uncommon for bills to take multiple legislative sessions to be passed. In the case of psychedelic-related policy reforms, it seems clear that public and political support continues to grow, so it’s not surprising Wiener felt confident in bringing a psychedelic decrim. bill back for a second swing.
Now, we await an updated copy of the bill’s text, which will reveal the extent of the amendments. We also await Senator Wiener’s comments.
Pending more news on the extent of the amendments, this could be a small victory. But, the bill has some way to go. It first has to find the approval of the Assembly floor. Then, it would head back to the Senate where amendments made since it was last there would need to be corroborated. If that’s achieved, it still needs the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who has reportedly given no indication as to whether he would sign it.