Legalizing Psilocybin – California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative

According to several reports, California could legalize psilocybin (the major active component in “magic mushrooms”) as early as next year. Psilocybin has been illegal since President Richard Nixon signed Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.  The Act categorized psilocybin (and mushrooms containing psilocybin) as a “Schedule I” drug.  Schedule I is reserved for substances or chemicals that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Since 1970, many have questioned the appropriateness of the Act and suggested legalization (or at least decriminalization) of psilocybin.

On August 25, 2017, Kevin Saunders filed The California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative with California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra. Mr. Saunders is seeking legislation that will decriminalize the adult use of psilocybin.  See the original article in The Sacramento BeeIf the initiative passes, California will be the first state to decriminalize psilocybin. The story was also covered by abc7 News.

Steps Towards Legalization or Decriminalization of Psilocybin

There are still several hurdles to legalization/decriminalization.  First, Attorney General Becerra’s office must approve the initiative’s language and issue a ballot title and summary. Once Becerra’s office takes those steps, supporters will be cleared to begin circulating petitions.  Mr. Saunders describes this as “a natural step” after the eventual success in gaining legalization of recreational marijuana.

Assuming the petition is approved by the Attorney General’s office, it must then receive 365,880 voter endorsements according to a story published by TheHill.  According to LAWeekly, it almost always takes a few million dollars in professional signature-gathering services to achieve the required voter endorsement signatures.

Proponents of Psilocybin Legalization

Proponents of the measure to legalize psilocybin say legality could save taxpayers lots of money by eliminating unnecessary mental health and criminal justice costs.  Proponents also point to new scientific studies showing that psilocybin is both safe and beneficial for many people suffering from mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Opponents of Psilocybin Legalization

Opponents of psilocybin legalization contend there is substantial potential for abusing the drug.  Opponents also contend that psilocybin use could increase the likelihood that users would engage in dangerous activities.  To our knowledge, neither of these concerns is backed by evidence which indicates that psilocybin may be the safest publicly used drug in existence.

Dr. Charles Grob Supports Decriminalization but not Legalization of Psilocybin

UCLA psychiatrist Charles Grob says he is impressed with the results of recent psilocybin studies.  But nevertheless, he still believes that premature legalization could be hazardous.  His advice is to wait for additional information before making a decision on legalization. Although Dr. Grob is opposed to criminal penalties for psilocybin use, he believes that the potential for harm outweighs the benefits of legalizing psilocybin. Accordingly, Dr. Grob does not support psilocybin legalization at this time.  But, he does encourage decriminalization of psilocybin. Regarding decriminalization, Dr. Grob recommends that authorities direct users towards research programs in the medical and mental health communities — not the criminal justice system.

The Drug Policy Alliance Declines to Endorse Efforts to Legalize or Decriminalize Psilocybin

Similarly, The Drug Policy Alliance is not ready to endorse activities related to the decriminalization or legalization of psilocybin. Tamar Todd, Senior Director in the Alliance’s Office of Legal Affairs, expressed concern about the lack of societal and expert support, saying that she believes that aggressive efforts toward legalization of psilocybin could ultimately move the cause backward. Further, she is concerned that legalizing psilocybin might give citizens a false sense of security despite the fact that they could face serious consequences for breaking federal law.

Similarities to Cannabis Legalization

The backdrop for legalizing psilocybin is often compared to the circumstances surrounding the legalization of cannabis (aka marijuana) about 20 years ago.  Here is the timeline for marijuana decriminalization and legalization at the state level:

  • Medical marijuana was legalized in California when Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act of 1996) was enacted by a ballot initiative on November 5, 1996.
  • Oregon, Alaska, and Washington followed California’s lead in 1998,
  • Maine followed in 1999.
  • Nevada, Colorado, and Hawaii followed in 2000. (Notably, Hawaii was the first state to legalize marijuana via state legislature, rather than a ballot initiative.)
  • Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.
  • Alaska and Oregon followed in legalizing recreational marijuana in 2014.
  • California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts followed in 2016.  (Notably, all of these states legalized recreational marijuana by way of ballot initiatives.)
  • On May 10, 2017, Vermont became the first state to legalize cannabis entirely through the elected legislature.

Information on Psilocybin Legalization Efforts

The Secretary of State’s tracking number for this measure is 1821 and the Attorney General’s tracking number is 17-0024.

The proponents of the measure, Kevin P. Saunders and Dimitric Merchant, must collect the signatures of 365,880 registered voters in order to qualify it for the ballot.  (The number “365,880 registered voters” is based on five percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the November 2014 general election).

The proponents have 180 days to circulate petitions for the measure, meaning the signatures must be submitted to county elections officials no later than April 30, 2018.

The proponents can be reached at (831) 521-1469 or [email protected].