Why California Wasn’t Ready For The Magic: A Breakdown Of Senate Bill 519
Last month, a highly anticipated bill in California was struck down by the lawmakers. Even before it reached the full Assembly, Senate Bill 519 had language removed from it that would’ve decriminalized psychedelics statewide.
In its initial draft presented to the California State Appropriations Assembly, the bill would have made the possession of modest amounts of LSD, Mescaline, Ibogaine, MDMA, and Psilocybin mushrooms 100 percent legal.
Understanding Senate Bill 519
To fully understand what is happening in California, a thorough reading should also be taken for the other measures being passed around the state. And, perhaps, those that are not.
One of the more nebulous processes in American State politics is the Californian process for passing a bill into law. It is a gauntlet of reviews that strains out all but the most fiscally prudent bills, at least according to the state’s Assembly Appropriations Committee.
This panel has been a stern gatekeeper, and, when Senate Bill 519 came to them, it suffered the same fate as many other paradigm-shifting proposals. This includes a bill to block an environmentally disastrous water-transfer project in the Mojave desert. Another would’ve allowed regulators to pursue damages from social media giants who knowingly addict children.
There are possible financial incentives for the state to slow down the passage of a broad psychedelics reform bill. It will permit large corporations — including Big Pharma — to gather themselves ahead of federal deregulation of Psilocybin and MDMA. Both of these psychedelics are being considered for descheduling, according to one veteran mental health advocate I spoke with.
The decriminalization of psilocybin in San Francisco gives lawmakers an out for more aggressive deregulation. However, it still satisfies liberal voters.
The passage of the Decrim Nature bill in a major metropolitan area like San Francisco is an easy way for local politicians to win votes amongst Democrats and Progressive-Republicans alike. This still allows studies on community impact to be conducted, markets to spore, and, most importantly, major industry concerns to position themselves years ahead of statewide and federal action that would truly restructure the way psychedelics are governed.
Until there are updates to federal laws concerning drug policy, Californians should not expect to see further progress on Senate Bill 519. To think of this another way, progressive cannabis policy has been lucrative for the state, but only up to a certain point.
While it’s easier than ever to legally sell marijuana products in California, the absence of updated laws covering federal trafficking that would allow cannabis to be shipped consumers in neighboring states means there is an ocean of product that goes bad sitting in farm bales from Mendocino to Santa Barbara. Unless it becomes federally legal for farmers to ship psychedelic mushrooms across state lines, an in-state decriminalization presents the same risk of creating an economic bottleneck to lawmakers.
Ongoing Social Disparities
Another comparative consideration: Psychedelics have not been linked to the social disparities facing people of color the way cannabis has. A major political incentive for the entire Green Wave in California was the astounding number of incarcerated persons whose only crime was cannabis possession.
American jails have been filled with people of color with a few grams of weed in their pockets far more than with those carrying mushrooms. Without the added push of civil rights groups that the cannabis legalization movement enjoyed in years past, the psychedelic movement will not be as capable of applying pressure to state legislatures.
Perhaps, most frustratingly, Senate Bill 519 was poised to be one of the most progressive pieces of state drug policy in a generation. It would’ve set a striking tone as states across the country explore various methods of assessing psychedelics for their therapeutic and recreational potential.
Senate Bill 519 will, no doubt, lead to a heap of research. Most of this will share a similar message: Psychedelics can do tremendous good, particularly when thoughtfully regulated and administered in a therapeutic setting.
There is also good news. The San Francisco resolution means that both sides of the East Bay are being put in a political spotlight. This comes at a time when America’s mental healthcare system faces an unprecedented crisis.
Looking for statistics? Once these sister cities begin to return the data to advocates and lawmakers, they could be recognized for the successful stewardship of a model that can be put to work elsewhere. Only then will laws like Senate Bill 519 be taken seriously — with a real possibility for change.