The seeds have been planted for another California law that could loosen restrictions on the use of recreational drugs in the United States.
Last week, Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Weber announced that a new initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, — also known by its street name “shrooms” — has been cleared by her office. Proponents of the legislation can begin collecting signatures to qualify it as a statewide ballot measure in 2022.
The initiative calls for the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms under California’s penal code. It also calls for the legalization of cultivation, manufacture, processing, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, and retail sale of the hallucinogenic fungi and chemical compounds it contains – as well as products and extracts derived from it.
Currently, under federal law, mushrooms are classified as a Schedule 1 drug. That designation indicates that a drug has a high potential for abuse, and it has no clear medical benefits.
If the initiative is qualified and approved by California voters, it would also authorize the research and use of psilocybin mushrooms for treatment by qualified healthcare practitioners. The requirement for an “independent professional certifying body” would exist to establish qualifications for healthcare practitioners who provide psilocybin mushroom-assisted therapy and to create protocols for such therapy.
“As Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and as a Black man in America, I have come to know what justice is or is not for people that look like me,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) told California Black Media.
“The War on Drugs had drastic consequences and a disproportionate impact on people of color, urban communities, and poor people despite studies showing drug usage being equal across various landscapes. That is one of the reasons why I support the decriminalization of certain drugs, including psilocybin. The effects of the war on drugs, however, is not the only reason for my position. Data and science have proven psilocybin’s potential to help people in a myriad of therapeutic applications. We gain nothing by continuing to live in the wreckage of the war on drugs, it is time to move on.”
The Attorney General prepares the legal title and summary that is required to appear on initiative petitions. When the official language is complete, the Attorney General forwards it to the proponent and to the Secretary of State, and the initiative may be circulated for signatures. The Secretary of State then provides calendar deadlines to the proponent and to county elections officials.
California was a trailblazer in the national movement to legalize marijuana when it first overturned prohibitions against medical uses of cannabis 25 years ago. Marijuana for recreational use is now legal in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
The proponent of the measure, Ryan Munevar, must collect signatures of 623,212 registered voters (five percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the November 2018 general election) for the measure to become eligible for the November 2022 ballot.
“I’m not an optimistic person at all, I’m more of a mathematician when it comes to these things, we have this down to a science” said Munevar. “But the reception has been phenomenal.”
Kevin Sabet, drug policy adviser to President Obama and author of the book, “Smokescreen: What the Marijuana Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,” has been an outspoken critic of legalization of marijuana, mushrooms and other drugs.
Sabet warns that profit motives, not public health imperatives, drive political legalization efforts.
“I worry that given the precedent we have set with tobacco, alcohol and now marijuana, we are setting up a new addictive industry that wants to deal with all kinds of drugs that have never been commercialized before, like mushrooms,” he said before Oregon decriminalized “shrooms” in 2019.
In August, Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) requested the cancelation of a hearing for a similar bill he authored SB 519. That legislation proposes removing criminal penalties for the using and sharing of psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, mescaline, LSD, ketamine and MDMA for people over age 21.
Munevar has 180 days to circulate petitions for the measure, meaning the signatures must be submitted to county elections officials no later than March 15, 2022.