SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill that seeks to decriminalize the possession and personal use of several hallucinogens, including psychedelic mushrooms.
The bill, which was vetoed Saturday, would have allowed people 21 and older to possess psilocybin, the hallucinogenic component in so-called psychedelic mushrooms. It would also have covered dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and mescaline.
The bill would not have legalized the sale of the substances and would have banned possession of the substances on school property. Instead, it would have ensured that people would not be arrested or prosecuted for possessing limited amounts of plant hallucinogens.
Newsom, a Democrat who pushed for cannabis legalization in 2016, said in a statement Saturday that more needs to be done before California decriminalizes the hallucinogens.
“California should immediately begin establishing regulated treatment guidelines – with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent exploitation in managed treatments, and a doctor’s certification of the absence of underlying psychoses,” Newsom’s statement said. “Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession before these policies take effect and I cannot sign it.”
The legislation, which would have taken effect in 2025, would have required the California Health and Human Services Agency to study the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances and make recommendations to lawmakers.
Even if California passed the bill into law, the drugs would still be illegal under federal law.
In recent years, psychedelics have emerged as an alternative approach to treating various mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The Federal Drug Administration named psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for treatment-resistant depression in 2019 and recently released draft guidance on the use of psychedelics in clinical trials.
Public opinion on psychedelics, primarily associated with the drug culture of the 1960s, has also shifted to favor therapeutic use.
Proponents of the legislation include veterans who have spoken about the benefits of using psychedelics to treat trauma and other illnesses.
“Psilocybin gave me my life back,” Joe McKay, a retired New York firefighter who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks, said at an Assembly hearing in July. “No one should go to prison for trying to heal with this drug.”
But opponents said the benefits of the drugs are still largely unknown and that the bill could lead to more crime – even though studies in recent years have shown that decriminalization does not increase crime rates. Parent representatives also fear that the legislation would make it easier for children and young people to access the medication.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, who authored the bill, called the veto a missed opportunity for California to follow science and lead the nation.
“This is a setback for the large number of Californians – including combat veterans and first responders – who safely use and benefit from these non-addictive substances and who now continue to be classified as criminals under California law,” Wiener said in a statement Saturday. “There is undeniable evidence that criminalizing access to these substances only serves to make people less safe and reduce access to help.”
He said he would introduce new laws in the future. Wiener tried unsuccessfully last year to pass a broader law that would also have decriminalized the use and possession of LSD and MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy.
Lawmakers can override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority, but they haven’t tried to do so in decades.
In 2020, Oregon voters approved the decriminalization of small amounts of psychedelics and were the first to approve the supervised use of psilocybin in a therapeutic setting. Two years later, Colorado voters also passed a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and create federally regulated centers where participants can try the drug under supervision.
In California, cities such as Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Berkeley have decriminalized natural psychedelics derived from plants and mushrooms.
Despite Newsom’s veto, California voters could have a chance to weigh in on the issue next year. Advocates are trying to place two initiatives to expand psychedelic use on the November 2024 ballot. One would legalize the use and sale of mushrooms for people 21 and older, the other would ask voters to approve $5 billion in borrowing to create a state agency dedicated to researching psychedelics therapies are commissioned.