Public Safety Advocates Urge Newsom to Veto ‘Dangerous’ Bill Legalizing Psychedelics

Public Safety Advocates Urge Newsom to Veto ‘Dangerous’ Bill Legalizing Psychedelics

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in Los Angeles on Nov. 10, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

9/28/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

California law enforcement leaders joined drug prevention experts Sept. 25 in an hour-long teleconference asking for the governor’s ban of a bill, which if approved, will decriminalize the use of certain hallucinogens statewide.
Authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 58 would allow people 21 or older to possess or transport for personal use some amounts of psychedelic substances including psilocybin, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms.” Cultivation of the drugs would also be permitted under specified amounts.
The bill recently passed on slim margins in both the Assembly and the Senate and now it’s up to Gov. Gavin Newsom to either sign it into law or veto it by mid-October.
“SB 58 is actually taking a step backwards. We in the United States have spent decades and countless resources discouraging and restricting the use of cigarettes. But now, we are focused on legalizing the use of drugs that are extremely hazardous to someone’s health,” said Ed Pecis, president of the California Narcotics Officers Association—a Santa Clarita-based nonprofit law enforcement training organization—during the Monday morning conference.
Mr. Wiener, however, has stated legalizing such drugs will help treat mental health issues, especially for veterans.
“Veterans and anyone suffering from PTSD and depression should not face criminal penalties for seeking relief,” Mr. Wiener said in a press release earlier this month. “Plant-based psychedelics are non-addictive and show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis.”
But the National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition—which represents over 60,000 law enforcement officers in the state—argued that hallucinogens have caused serious health issues and said those in support of the bill are “no better than sleazy snake oil salesmen seeking to make a buck off the backs of the vulnerable,” in a letter sent Sept. 15 to Mr. Newsom.
“Psychedelics have been shown to cause different negative consequences such as cardiac issues, seizures, depression, amnesia, acute anxiety, and hallucination, and are dangerous to users and bystanders alike,” they wrote.
Magic mushrooms contain the hallucinogen psilocybin. (Moha El-Jaw/Shutterstock)

Magic mushrooms contain the hallucinogen psilocybin. (Moha El-Jaw/Shutterstock)

While personal use would become legal after Jan. 1, 2025, the use of certain psychedelics by treatment providers for “facilitated or supported use,” will also be allowed after the state’s Health and Human Services Agency recommends a plan for such for the Legislature’s approval, according to an analysis of the bill.
However, some experts say that allowing usage outside of personal settings, in larger group settings, poses unintended consequences such as enabling drug dealers.
“SB58 even aims at permitting social or group sharing eventually which can give rise to colossal public safety problems. Allowing for group sharing or supported use is effectively giving the drug dealers a built-in defense,” said Frank Lee, vice president of California Coalition Against Drugs—a statewide organization representing law enforcement, health care experts, victims, and community groups—in a Sept. 25 press release.

Potential Dangers for Young Adults

While supporters of the bill argue psychedelics can help people with mental health issues, those opposed say just the opposite.
Joel Justice, president of the California College and University Police Chiefs Association—representing police chiefs at California’s colleges—urged a veto on the bill during the recent conference, citing research that shows the potential dangers of psychedelic usage among college-aged students.
“Individuals who used psychedelics during their college years are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety in their adulthood,” he said during the conference, citing data from the Journal of Addiction—an addiction research publication.
According to 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were over 6,000 emergency hospital visits for youth aged 18 to 25 related to hallucinogen misuse, Mr. Justice said during the meeting, before asking the governor to think of his own children.
“Governor Newsom: we strongly urge you to veto this bill. I know you have young children and they'll be going away to college soon and you don’t want them experimenting with these drugs when they get there,” he said.
A student sits in the shade at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., on Oct. 14, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A student sits in the shade at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., on Oct. 14, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Janet Rowse, a drug prevention expert and executive director of Safe Launch—a nonprofit youth substance prevention organization—argued that decriminalizing hallucinogens will encourage their usage among the state’s youth.
“It’s a fact that increasing access through decriminalization and legalization of any intoxicant reduces the perceived harm, and increases use ... and that’s in the whole population,” she said.
Ms. Rowse argued that experts have long-used doctors’ recommendations to gain public trust, such as those in the alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana industries.
“You can’t keep this from kids. It’s just going to happen as it has happened for all the others. ... It’s fine that these things may have some kind of medical use in a medical setting, but that’s the only place for it,” she said during the conference.
Proponents of the bill—including the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a criminal defense nonprofit organization, and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a non-profit criminal justice reform organization, argue that psychedelics are more commonly being used to treat issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety, according to a recent bill analysis.
“Generations of anecdotal evidence and current clinical research at leading universities including Johns Hopkins, NYU, and UCLA, point to therapeutic uses for psychedelic drugs in treating complex mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and addiction,” the law enforcement partnership wrote in support of the bill.

Only Proven Effective in Supervised Settings

But those opposed argued psychedelics have only been proven effective to treat such disorders in controlled settings, unlike what’s proposed in SB 58.
In their opposition, the narcotics association cited Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, who oversees the psychedelic research program at New York University’s Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, as being concerned that enthusiasm for the usage of such drugs is “outpacing science,” and legalizing any drug before FDA approval is a “deviation” from the normal process.
“We hope [psychedelics] will represent a major breakthrough, but we really can’t say that is true until we’ve accumulated and analyzed the evidence that is needed to make that determination,” Dr. Bogenschutz said in a February 2023 article in TIME magazine, which was quoted in the bill’s analysis.
A nearly identical bill failed last year which would have legalized a larger scope of psychedelics, including naturally occurring and synthetic substances, after it was denied by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which recommended providing funding for research on the matter, before considering legalization.

Health and Public Safety Risks

Skipping safeguards such as FDA approval, like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors did last year when it passed a resolution decriminalizing psychedelics, or medicinal legalization such as with cannabis before it was legalized for recreational use, has raised red flags for some opposed to the bill.
“There are standards the FDA follows to make sure drugs do not have toxins, carcinogens, and contaminants. And there are currently many modalities and therapeutics that work for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. SB 58 circumvents the established medical and regulatory protections and places Californians in danger,” said Dr. Roneet Lev, former chief medical officer for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which coordinates U.S. drug policy and prevention, during the zoom conference.
She said if passed, SB 58 would act as a “stepping stone to normalize and commercialize drugs in California,” as well as in the nation.
Others say they are concerned legalizing hallucinogens will take a toll on law enforcement, such as requiring new funding to train officers and increasing the risk of DUIs.
“I can tell you from 37 years of law enforcement, dealing with people who are high on hallucinogens or any other types of drugs poses severe issues ... law enforcement should not have to engage in situations where people are hallucinating,” said Sheriff Mike Boudreaux—president of the California State Sheriffs Association—during the zoom conference.
The bill passed the Assembly 43–15 Sept. 6 and the Senate 21–14 the following day. Mr. Newsom now has until Oct. 14 to either sign the bill into law or veto it.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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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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