On February 17, 2021, California Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB-519, a bill that if passed, would decriminalize a host of both natural and synthetic psychedelic drugs. In this post, I’ll unpack what the law would do in its current form.
Before I get into the specifics of the bill, there are three things that are important to note. First, this bill was just introduced and it’s highly likely that it will be amended–possibly even substantially–during the legislative process. Second, it’s by no means guaranteed that this bill will pass. The California legislature has had a hard enough time trying to pass a hemp CBD law that we don’t recommend getting your hopes up just yet.
Third, and most importantly, this law would NOT legalize psychedelics in the same sense as states have legalized cannabis across the nation. There is a big difference between decriminalization and legalization, and the difference can often be complex. But in the simplest terms, this bill won’t open up legal commercial opportunities; instead, it is mainly designed to reduce and eliminate penalties for possession and personal use by persons over 21. And it certainly won’t change federal law.
With that, let’s take a look at what the law would do:
Remove possession penalties. The law would remove criminal penalties for possessing a host of drugs on Schedule I of California’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act, such as DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and psilocyn. Again, this is not full-fledged legalization, but the removal of certain penalties for possession only.
Allow social sharing. The law would also allow the possession, processing, obtaining, ingesting, “social sharing” or transport of DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, or psilocyn. It would also make lawful cultivation or processing of plants capable of making these substances at a person’s property for personal use or social sharing.
It’s important to note that any kind of sharing would have to be with someone over 21 and provision to a minor could lead to penalties. Social sharing is limited to giving away or counseling the administration of these substances to persons over 21 without financial gain and in the context of things such as group counseling or spiritual guidance. This does NOT allow for commercial sales–the law is clear that social sharing cannot be for financial gain. The one seeming exception is that the term “financial gain” does not prohibit charging fees for services such as counseling or spiritual guidance. There are similar, though more narrow, provisions for MDMA.
Decriminalize paraphernalia. Existing law criminalizes drug paraphernalia. This law would provide a carveout to existing law for paraphernalia related to the personal possession, growing, sharing, or safe use of a host of substances, including DMT, LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine. The purpose of this carveout is to allow for harm-reduction tools such as drug-checking kits and other paraphernalia that can help test and ensure the safety of these substances.
Working Group. The California Department of Public Health would be required to convene a working group to study and make recommendations regarding decriminalization and even legalization and regulation of psychedelic substances. The CDPH’s report to the state legislature will be due by January 1, 2024.
Expungement Opportunities. The law would provide mechanisms to seek to recall or dismiss sentences and possible sealing, if those persons would not have been guilty of an offense or would have been guilty of a lesser offense under certain parts of this law. The state Department of Justice would be required to review records in state criminal proceedings and notify, over the next few years, prosecutors of cases that would then be eligible for dismissal or recall. The law then lists out a complex process of allowing challenges to the dismissal or reduction, and ultimately would allow courts to reduce or dismiss convictions in some cases.
This is a very ambitious law and is likely to undergo substantial changes in the legislative session. Please stay tuned to the Canna Law Blog for more updates.