California Bill to Legalize Psychedelic Treatment for Veterans, First Responders Won’t Advance

California Bill to Legalize Psychedelic Treatment for Veterans, First Responders Won’t Advance

The sale, distribution, and possession of so-called magic mushrooms—which contain the hallucinogen psilocybin—are illegal in Canada, but there has been little uniformity in how police services deal with dispensaries selling them. (Moha El-Jaw/Shutterstock)

Rudy Blalock
Rudy Blalock

6/28/2024

Updated: 7/1/2024

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A California bill to legalize psychedelics for medical use among veterans and first responders will not move forward because of a lack of support, according to its author.
State Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones, a Republican from San Diego, withdrew the bill on June 25 after learning that Democrats on the Assembly’s Health Committee were opposed to it. Last year, he said, that was not the case when lawmakers supported a bill to fully decriminalize the drug.
“It’s frustrating that Democrats on the committee widely supported last year’s effort to fully decriminalize psychedelics, but now they are opposed to even a narrow use for treatment for the men and women who have done the most to serve us,” he said in a June 26 statement to The Epoch Times.
Introduced earlier this month by Mr. Jones and state Sen. Josh Becker, The Heal Our Heroes Act sought to establish a pilot program authorizing the counties of Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and San Diego to offer treatments using psilocybin or psilocin, the main chemicals found in “magic mushrooms,” according to a June statement from Mr. Jones.
The program would have served military veterans and first responders with mental health concerns.
Mr. Becker, a Democrat from Menlo Park, said his office would continue to push for the medical usage of the drug for the two groups, citing a January study by Stanford University that showed promise in psychedelics treatment.
The study pointed to improvements in depression and anxiety for veterans with traumatic brain injury, when no other drug was found effective, according to Mr. Becker.
“That was the goal of SB 803, and that is what I will continue to fight for despite this setback,” he said in the emailed statement.
Mr. Jones said committee members weren’t interested in “[working] out the language” of the bill for it to go forward, so he pulled it at the last minute.
The most recent bill analysis by staff of the Assembly Health Committee states that it is concerning that the bill lacks oversight for its screening process and that the bill—which was introduced at the last minute via what’s known as the Legislature’s “gut and amend” process—needed more time for deliberations.
“There has been no clear urgency demonstrated as to why the Legislature must rush such a consequential bill through the process,” the bill analysis reads.
According to the bill’s text, a public health officer would be named to run the program.
The health committee bill analysis argued that such officers are primarily focused on public health and are “highly unlikely” to have the expertise or capacity to manage such an experimental pilot program.
It also states that the bill doesn’t specify who is eligible for the program—just broadly named former first responders and veterans—and that the bill did not have a mental health condition requirement or require follow-up assessments for those treated.
According to Mr. Jones’s statement, he will continue to look for more ways that the drugs can be studied “with the hope of providing much-needed relief to those patients who need it most.”
Such substances have shown promise in treating mental health conditions such as depression, according to a recent study by the American Medical Association, which lawmakers referenced in a bill fact sheet.
“Psilocybin treatment was associated with a clinically significant sustained reduction in depressive symptoms and functional disability, without serious adverse events,” researchers said in the August 2023 findings.
The bill was narrowly tailored to serve former military veterans and first responders, who are known to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues as a result of their service.
It was co-authored by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, a Republican from Valley Center, located in Northern San Diego County.

Efforts to Legalize Psychedelic Therapy for All

A bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, sought to legalize psychedelics-assisted therapy for all Californians but was killed last month in the Senate Appropriations Committee, with a legislative analysis citing concerns of “unknown” and “significant” costs that the proposed legislation could have.
“We’ve been working for four years to legalize access to psychedelics in California, to bring these substances out of the shadows and into the sunlight, and to improve safety and education around their use,” Mr. Wiener said in a May statement. “It’s disappointing for this bill not to move forward.”
Those opposed to the bill include the California Coalition Against Drugs—a statewide coalition of organizations representing law enforcement, anti-drug groups, drug victims, patients’ rights advocates, and community groups—which has led efforts to block both bills.
Regarding the more recently killed bill, coalition members criticized how SB 803 was introduced through the gut and amend process, which allows lawmakers to revive a bill with new and unrelated content.
“The proponents of the bill actually make a mockery of our democracy by gutting another bill ... and inserting psychedelics content to force the issue!” a June 26 statement from the coalition reads.
Members of the coalition say there are many problems “in terms of technicality” in the bill and dispute sources used by lawmakers to suggest that drugs such as psilocybin are effective in treating mental health issues.
According to coalition Vice President Frank Lee, two studies from 2022 cited often by lawmakers proposing such legislation actually suggest that the drug isn’t ready for widespread use.
One such study by Johns Hopkins University found psilocybin to be effective when used in depression treatment.
However, in a statement on the study, Natalie Gukasyan, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the university’s school of medicine, said the promising medical effect was “under carefully controlled conditions.”
Other research used by lawmakers cites psilocybin as an option to treat alcohol addiction. But its leading researcher, Michael P. Bogenschutz, director of New York University’s Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, cautioned that the drug is not ready for widespread clinical use.
Critics say that because Mr. Jones and Mr. Becker’s bill was rushed, it lacks critical details for the pilot program, such as a list of specific mental health conditions participants would need to meet or what a patient can or can’t do after dosing.
In January, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who had reportedly taken a small amount of psilocybin two days prior tried to disable engines mid-flight with 83 passengers on board. 
“Imagine how dangerous it is for a user of magic mushroom to drive immediately after taking the drug which can also cause flashback many days later,” the coalition said in the same statement. 
According to the bill’s text, the public health officer in charge is required to consult with experts, who would provide data and results by Jan. 1, 2027, on the program’s efficacy, which critics say could be partial.
“When the proponents are in charge, it would be hard to have impartial personnel for the gathering of data, analysis of results, and preparation of reports,” Mr. Lee said in the statement.
The health committee bill analysis states that the bill didn’t mention what should happen after dosing—such as a mental health or physical exam—to ensure patients’ well-being.
The same analysis concluded that the pilot program doesn’t ensure that psychedelic substances would be used under the “strict parameters of clinical research,” nor have they received approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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