Several US states have psychedelic-favored legislation underway, but none more than California. The state is pioneering psychedelic reform with two major initiatives in the works.
Though a handful of cities have decriminalized various psychedelic compounds, they remain illegal in the Golden State. However, that may be on the brink of change. There are two major initiatives attempting to permanently shift the legal landscape of psychedelics in California.
If both Senate Bill 58 and TREAT California become law, California will be taking a two-pronged approach to increase access to psychedelic medicines. Both initiatives are quite different than what we’ve seen in states such as Oregon and Colorado. This will test an entirely new structure for a legal psychedelic framework.
Decriminalizing and Legalizing Psychedelics with SB 58
State Senator Scott Weiner has been working on pushing psychedelic legislation through the wringer in California for a while now; he is finally closing in on the finish line.
Weiner first introduced the idea of changing psychedelic regulations in California back in February 2021. The original bill, SB519, passed in the State Senate and two Assembly committees before stalling and ultimately dying. Due to increasing issues of depression, addiction, and PTSD across California, the state Senate and Assembly are now reconsidering Weiner’s proposal.
The Senator has since renewed his efforts to decriminalize and legalize psychedelics with Senate Bill 58, and things are going much better this time. The bill is not unlike the psychedelic initiatives that have been passed in Oregon and Colorado. However, this is being put forth by the state’s government instead of its citizens.
If passed, SB58 would decriminalize the possession and personal use of several psychedelic compounds by removing them from California’s criminal code. The substances that will be included are psilocybin, psilocin, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline. Unlike the original bill, MDMA and LSD are excluded.
Like several cities and states that have decriminalized mescaline, the law excludes peyote in an attempt to respect the traditions of Native Americans. Peyote has been used for centuries by native tribes for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Unfortunately, the cactus is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Some Native Tribes have campaigned against legalizing peyote on a broad scale, and their efforts have been successful.
SB58 is being sponsored by The Heroic Hearts Foundation— a non-profit organization committed to getting veterans the support they need to reclaim their lives after combat. The group has also spent time in Washington DC recently fighting for psychedelic research funding from Congress. Despite their valiant efforts to get this passed, there are a few issues.
One of the primary problems blocking this bill is a budgetary issue. SB519 had included $5 million to fund a “working group.” The bill made this group responsible for “making recommendations on the establishment of a framework governing the therapeutic use, including facilitated or supported use of mescaline, ibogaine, DMT, psilocin, or psilocybin.”
The working group was initially omitted from SB58 because of its significant funding needs. However, an amendment was recently made, adding it back in. Some supporters of the bill are critical of this because it prevents people from gaining immediate therapeutic treatment with psychedelics. The recommendations for the framework would not be made until January 1, 2025. This would delay ‘supported or facilitated use’ until the framework is established. Personal possession and use would still be decriminalized immediately.
This long waiting period is not unlike Oregon and Colorado’s ballot measures. In fact, both states gave their regulatory committees two full years to establish the framework for facilitated use. By the time SB58 passes, the working group would have just about a year to establish its guidelines.
The bill is currently waiting for approval from the Assembly’s appropriations committee, which decides if it is financially viable for the state. Prior to the amendment, there was no issue with the funding required for the bill. However, now that is less sure.
If the bill makes it through the appropriations committee, it will go to a vote on the assembly floor. Then, finally, it must be signed into law by the state’s Governor, Gavin Newson.
It is difficult to say whether or not the bill will pass. However, it does have more momentum than the previous bill. In addition to SB58, there is currently a citizen-driven ballot initiative taking a different route to psychedelic access.
TREAT California— A Unique Solution for Psychedelics
Attempting to work in tandem with SB58 is TREAT California. This is a citizen-driven ballot initiative that would allocate $5 billion to building out a psychedelic therapy ecosystem in California. Unlike SB58, this program would take the FDA route to provide access to psychedelics for not just California citizens but the entire US.
This first-of-its-kind program is being led by Jeannie Fontana— a neuroscientist with a proven background in getting large sums of money from California for novel research. However, this program will be like nothing that has come before.
The agency created by this initiative will use the $5 billion to push psychedelic drugs through FDA approval and completely build out the infrastructure for psychedelic-assisted therapy in California. The program will partner with one or several private companies to help get psychedelic medicines approved for multiple indications.
Once these drugs go through FDA approval, they will be available all over the country, not just in the US.
What makes this program unique is that it is the first time in US history that a state agency will own equity in a private company. In exchange for providing funding for clinical trials, the agency would take a licensing fee from the company. This would bring in even more capital to help build out infrastructure for psychedelic therapy and increase access.
In addition to pushing psychedelic drugs through FDA approval, the money would be used for treatments, research, education, access, and therapy. The goal of the program is to build out all the infrastructure needed to provide citizens with psychedelic-assisted therapy. The initiative also focuses on how to bring these treatments to people who do not have the resources to pay for them.
Fontana said: “I think I can help fix a small piece of this very broken society we’re living in right now.” She wants to use psychedelics to “empower the person to learn how to take care of their own anxiety.”
Though the entire US is in desperate need of new solutions to problems such as depression, addiction, and PTSD, California is in a particularly dire situation. The state spends $95 billion on substance abuse disorder alone. The rates of overdoses and homeless veterans are out of control in the golden state.
There are many goals and moving pieces within this initiative. It is impossible to fully predict the outcome of such a program since nothing like it has ever existed before. However, it will certainly have a massive impact on the psychedelic industry throughout the entire US.
In order for this to pass, it first has to gain a million signatures before the end of 2023. Once it is on the ballot, California citizens will have the opportunity to vote it into law.
If passed, TREAT California would be no small feat. However, it would not be an immediate solution to the problems that it aims to address.
How Soon Will California Have Psychedelic Therapy?
FDA approval of a new drug takes years and hundreds of millions of dollars. The TREAT California initiative would help solve the capital problem. However, it won’t be able to speed up the sluggish clinical trial process. We wouldn’t really start to see the results from this program for at least five years from now. SB58 bridges this gap.
SB58 would allow more immediate access to psychedelics. Although the new amendment would require a waiting period until there is a framework for psychedelic therapy, it would be a much quicker turnaround than the TREAT California initiative.
TREAT California won’t be a quick route to psychedelic accessibility, but it would be a major asset to the industry long-term. The initiative would not only benefit California but would turn psychedelics into a legal pharmaceutical drug for the entire US. The infrastructure built out in California would also provide an opportunity for psychedelic companies to access a major economy.
Every month, more cities and states are talking about how they can utilize psychedelics to help solve the major problems they face. Even Congress has begun to see the value in psychedelic medicines. If passed, both SB58 and TREAT California are major steps towards psychedelic access for everyone who could benefit from it.