On February 17, 2021, California Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB-519, a bill that, if passed, would decriminalize a variety of natural and synthetic psychedelics. In this post I am going to unpack what the law would do in its current form.
Before I go into the details of the bill, there are three things to keep in mind. Firstly, this bill has only just been introduced and it is very likely that it will be amended, possibly significantly, during the legislative process. Second, there is no guarantee that this bill will be passed. California lawmakers have had a tough enough time getting hemp CBD bill passed that we don’t recommend yet to get your hopes up.
Third and foremost, this law would NOT legalize psychedelics in the same vein that states have legalized cannabis across the country. There is a huge difference between decriminalization and legalization, and the difference can often be complex. But in the simplest sense, this bill does not open up any legal business opportunities. Instead, it is primarily intended to reduce and eliminate penalties for possession and personal use by anyone over the age of 21. And it certainly won’t change federal law.
Let’s take a look at what the law would do:
Remove the possession penalties. The law would remove criminal penalties for possession of a variety of drugs under Appendix I of California’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act, such as DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and psilocyn. Again, it is not a question of complete legalization, but of the lifting of certain penalties only for possession.
Allow social sharing. The law would also allow the possession, processing, receipt, ingestion, “sharing” or transport of DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin or psilocyn. This would also allow the lawful cultivation or processing of plants capable of producing these substances on a person’s property for personal use or social exchange.
It is important to note that any form of sharing must be done with someone over the age of 21 and providing it to minors can result in penalties. Social sharing is limited to giving away or advising the administration of these substances to people over the age of 21 without financial gain and in the context of things like group counseling or spiritual guidance. This DOES NOT allow commercial sales – the law is clear that social sharing cannot be for financial purposes. The only apparent exception is that the term “financial gain” does not prohibit the charging of fees for services such as counseling or spiritual guidance. There are similar, albeit stricter, provisions for MDMA.
Decriminalize utensils. Current law criminalizes drug paraphernalia. This bill would expand the existing paraphernalia law for personal possession, growing, sharing, or safe use of a wide variety of substances, including DMT, LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine. The purpose of this spin-off is to enable harm reduction tools such as drug control kits and other paraphernalia that can be used to test and ensure the safety of these substances.
Working group. The California Department of Health would need to convene a task force to investigate the decriminalization and even the legalization and regulation of psychedelic substances and make recommendations. The CDPH’s report to the state parliament is due by January 1, 2024.
Possibility of extinction. The law would provide mechanisms to attempt to recall or reject judgments and possible seals if those individuals had not been guilty of a crime or a lesser crime under certain parts of that law. The state’s Department of Justice would have to review records of state criminal proceedings and, over the next few years, notify prosecutors of cases that would then be eligible for release or recall. The law then enumerates a complex process of allowing dismissal or cut challenges, and would ultimately allow the courts to reduce or deny convictions in some cases.
This is a very ambitious piece of legislation that is likely to see significant changes in the legislature. Please visit the law Law Blog for more updates.