Newsom vetoes bill on psilocybin ‘magic’ mushrooms, but leaves door open

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday vetoed a bill that would have removed criminal penalties for using and possessing small amounts of hallucinogens, including psilocybin “magic” mushrooms and the cactus-derived drug mescaline.

The bill, which would also have decriminalized the psilocybin mushroom extract psilocin and the psychoactive compound dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, would have eliminated criminal penalties for using specific quantities of the drugs for people 21 and older.

“Both peer-reviewed science and powerful personal anecdotes lead me to support new opportunities to address mental health through psychedelic medicines like those addressed in this bill,” Newsom wrote in a letter to state senators, who three weeks ago passed the bill, SB 58. “Psychedelics have proven to relieve people suffering from certain conditions such as depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other addictive personality traits.”

Newsom promised California would lead on addressing mental health through psychedelic drugs. But he wrote that he could not sign the bill without regulated “treatment guidelines” on dosing information and therapeutic use, along with “rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments,” and a medical-clearance process to check for  “underlying psychoses.” Newsom urged lawmakers to send him a bill next year with such guidelines.

And the governor left the door open for wider permitted uses of the substances. Newsom said he was “committed to working with the legislature and sponsors of this bill to craft legislation that would authorize permissible uses and consider a framework for potential broader decriminalization in the future, once the impacts, dosing, best practice, and safety guardrails are thoroughly contemplated and put in place.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who put forward the bill, took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon to call Newsom’s veto “a setback for the huge number of Californians — including combat veterans and first responders — who are safely using and benefiting from these non-addictive substances and who will now continue to be classified as criminals under California law.” Wiener promised to be “back with legislation next year.”

The plant-based drugs at issue in the bill remain illegal under federal law. But Newsom’s veto came amid a movement to decriminalize and even legalize the fungus-drug popularly known as “shrooms,” along with other plant- and fungus-based psychedelics. UC Berkeley researchers this year reported survey results indicating 61% of  registered voters in the U.S. support legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics.

Oakland’s city council in 2019 passed a resolution decriminalizing consciousness-altering plants including psilocybin mushrooms, following shortly on the heels of Denver, the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin, via a ballot measure. In early 2020, the city council in Santa Cruz voted unanimously in favor of a resolution similar to Oakland’s. Colorado voters followed suit with approval of a state-wide ballot measure last year, and Oregon, following a 2021 ballot measure, this year became the first state to legalize psilocybin use by adults.

After criminal penalties were dropped in Oakland, the “Church of Ambrosia” began selling mushrooms on site to members, who can apply for membership online. The “church” has expanded to San Francisco. Another San Francisco psilocybin purveyor, The Living Church, takes donations for “sacred mushroom” varieties described on the shop’s Instagram page as including the “friendly, giggly, and gentle” Hillbilly, the Monster Mac for “intense visuals, pure euphoria, time dilation fading into introspection” and Enigma, a “peculiar blob mutation” that produces a “very transformative expierience (sic), vivid visuals, and introspective complentation (sic).”

Retired Santa Clara County firefighter Angela Graham founded the S.I.R.E.N. Project, which pays for psychedelic trips by Bay Area first responders with mental health issues.

The 21st Century’s psychedelic movement has received boosts from celebrities including boxer Mike Tyson, who told Reuters in 2021 that psilocybin mushrooms freed him from mental distress and suicidal thoughts. Prince Harry, the English Duke of Sussex, wrote in his recent memoir “Spare” that taking the mushrooms helped him “redefine” reality and cope with grief and trauma from the 1997 death of his mother, Princess Diana, when he was 12.

More locally, former Specialized Bicycles CEO Mike Sinyard of San Jose co-founded Project New Day, a foundation dedicated to researching and promoting psychedelic treatments for addiction and trauma.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse recognizes “growing research interest” in psychedelic drugs for treating mental health disorders. But the institute also warns of side effects and said data from 2000 to 2016 show the most common short-term effects reported by poison-control hotline callers about taking psilocybin or the chemical hallucinogen LSD were agitation, rapid heartbeat, pupil dilation, confusion, and vomiting. Other potential adverse reactions include fear and anxiety, according to the institute.

“These challenging experiences are also known as having a ‘bad trip,’” the institute noted.

Newsom’s reference in the letter to exploitation during guided treatments appears to reflect caution over what researchers in a 2021 paper in the Harm Reduction Journal called “reported instances of sexual abuse perpetrated by shamans or guides in psychedelic contexts.”

The decriminalization bill was opposed by a Marin County-based group calling itself the California Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education. Lisa Hudson, a member of the organization, told the Bay Area News Group earlier this year that she lost her 16-year-old son Shayne Rebbetoy in 2020 after he took mushrooms, though he could fly, and leapt from the family’s 40-foot-tall deck in San Anselmo.

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