This month California’s Legislature passed a bill to decriminalize certain psychedelics which is now awaiting Governor Newsom’s signature. The rest of the United States, namely the federal government, should take note.
The California Legislature aims to allow individuals 21 years of age and older to legally possess limited amounts of mescaline, DMT, psilocybin, and psilocyn for personal use starting in 2025. In addition to legalizing their possession, Californian adults would also be allowed to cultivate psilocybin and psilocyn for personal use.
Notably, synthetic psychedelics such as LSD and MDMA were not included in the legislation. Ideally, these psychedelics would be legalized as well since synthetic substances can be more easily unknowingly tampered with. But their exclusion was a political maneuver that helped to get this legislation passed — synthetic psychedelics were originally included in the first iteration of this bill that failed to pass the Assembly.
Additionally, peyote, which is another natural psychedelic, was not included because the cactus that it is derived from is endangered, and there are concerns that its total legalization or decriminalization would cause shortages that would affect the native populations who use the substance in their ceremonies. Current California law criminalizes the cultivation and harvesting of peyote, though federal law allows indigenous individuals to possess and consume the substance for religious purposes.
Certain U.S. states have legalized and decriminalized some psychedelics for recreational and therapeutic use. In lieu of legalization, decriminalization of drugs is a righteous goal as it allows for increased research on the substances as securing funding becomes easier, increased treatment of substance use disorder as individuals will be less weary of being criminally charged for their drug use, and decreased amounts of drugs on the black market as the substances will be moved off of the streets into regulated storefronts.
But despite efforts by states, psychedelics remain totally illegal at the federal level as they are categorized as Schedule I drugs, meaning the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believes they have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
But that just isn’t true.
Psychedelics do have potential short-term negative health effects like anxiety, increased heart rate, and psychosis. But they are generally not addictive and fatal overdoses are highly unlikely. There are also potential health benefits to psychedelics, such as alleviating migraines, aiding in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and reducing stress-related anxiety. But research on both the negative and positive impacts of psychedelics has been severely limited by the DEA’s scheduling of these substances, placing consumers at a significant disadvantage when making the personal choice to use these substances.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems to have conceded that psychedelics do, in fact, have medical uses as they recently issued a guidance document to “highlight fundamental considerations to researchers investigating the use of psychedelic drugs for potential treatment of medical conditions.” The FDA’s own director of the Division of Psychiatry, Dr. Tiffany Farchione, stated that “Psychedelic drugs show initial promise as potential treatments for mood, anxiety and substance use disorders.”
Conversely, alcohol and nicotine are some of the most addictive substances and can have hugely negative effects on an individual’s health. Tobacco products can have negative health impacts on individuals who don’t even use the products via second-hand smoke. Yet, they are fully legal on the federal level, not scheduled by the DEA, and are socially and morally accepted by the vast majority of the United States population.
People should have the ability to take the same kinds of calculated risks with their own bodies through the use of psychedelics that they can with alcohol and nicotine products. It is equally important that people have access to safer and regulated products to prevent them from turning to potentially dangerous alternatives on the black market.
It is not the role of the government to legislate public access to substances based on their moral value. What people put in their own bodies should be left to their discretion.
Governor Newsom would be wise to sign this bill into law, and other states and the federal government should follow suit.
Sofia Hamilton is a Research Associate at a DC think tank and a Contributor with Young Voices where she focuses on issues related to health care, housing, and welfare. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Washington Examiner, the Orange County Register, and the South Florida Sun Sentinel.