California Nears Psychedelic Drug Legalization

On Thursday, the Democrat-controlled California Assembly passed a bill decriminalizing personal use of psychedelic drugs. The legislation, Senate Bill 58, received bipartisan support, with 42 members voting in favor, including five Republicans, and only 13 opposed. The bill aims to permit Californians over age 21 to “ingest, possess, cultivate or transport small amounts of psychedelic drugs such as hallucinogenic mushrooms.”

While the selling and distribution of such substances will still be illegal, the bill’s passage raises questions about the ramifications on society and public health. “Crime and homelessness are out of control in California. If Democrats don’t think this will make things worse, they’re hallucinating — no mushrooms needed,” Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher warned.

Proponents have framed the rationale for decriminalizing psychedelics as an issue of mental health and criminal justice reform. State Assemblyman Scott Wiener (D), who introduced the bill, argued, “We know these substances are not addictive, and they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most intractable conditions driving our nation’s mental health crisis.”

But what happens when drug decriminalization takes precedence over addressing the root causes of mental health issues and crime? The increase in the use of “magic” mushrooms and other hallucinogenic drugs among young adults has nearly doubled in three years, according to a study published this month in the medical journal Addiction. In 2021, approximately 6.6% of young adults aged 19 to 30 used hallucinogenic drugs other than LSD, up from 3.4% in 2018.

Megan Patrick, co-principal investigator of Monitoring the Future at the University of Michigan, said the rise in hallucinogenic drug use “raises potential public health concerns.” The question becomes: Are we ready to take that gamble, especially when experts like Nora Volkow, director of a national institute studying adverse effects of drug use, warn of the risks of a “bad trip,” which could lead to dangerous outcomes like suicide?

For conservatives, this is yet another instance where California’s liberal policies may exacerbate existing social issues rather than solve them. While evaluating alternative methods of treating mental health conditions is important, an unguarded leap into decriminalizing substances known for unpredictable behavioral outcomes is troubling.

Moreover, the bill does little to address concerns surrounding youth exposure and the potential for increased use on school campuses. The legislation penalizes possession of psychedelics on school grounds or by people under 21. However, with decriminalization, the likelihood of these substances becoming more readily available remains a concern.

California, already a leader in the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, is now spearheading another social experiment with Senate Bill 58. As this legislation awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) before going into effect on January 1, 2025, Californians and the rest of the nation will be watching closely.