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News / Politics

Bill aims to stop federal intervention in states allowing use of ‘magic mushrooms’

By Connor Sheets, Los Angeles Times
Published: September 20, 2023, 8:14am

Rep. Robert Garcia plans to introduce legislation Wednesday aimed at discouraging federal law enforcement agencies from conducting raids or otherwise intervening in states and localities that have approved local measures to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms.

The California Democrat said the federal bill is modeled after similar laws passed over the last decade that have led agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI to de-emphasize the investigation and prosecution of cannabis-related crimes, despite the fact that marijuana — like psilocybin — remains illegal at the federal level.

“We’re taking the exact same language that was used for cannabis and we’re applying it to psilocybin,” Garcia said in an interview Tuesday. “This really empowers states and localities … so that they know the federal government is not going to get in the way with criminalization.”

Oregon and Colorado have already legalized use of psilocybin in some therapeutic settings. Both states, and a number of municipalities, including Oakland, Santa Cruz and Detroit, have decriminalized the so-called magic mushrooms, which have been shown in recent research studies to benefit people suffering from a wide range of mental health diagnoses, including depression and PTSD.

This month, the California Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom that would legalize therapeutic access to a number of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin mushrooms, while also decriminalizing possession of the powerful drugs. It is unclear whether Newsom intends to sign the legislation, which was introduced this year by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

“Every drug has risks. Criminalization increases those risks. We want to bring them out of the shadows,” Wiener told The Times in May. “It would no longer be a criminal offense to possess a limited amount of psychedelics.”

The efforts in recent years to decriminalize some psychedelics and expand access to treatments using psilocybin come amid a rise in research showing that therapeutic use of psychedelics can be a highly effective treatment for various mental health conditions. Yet some critics worry that expanding access to the powerful substances could lead to higher incidence of potentially serious side effects and harm, such as confusion, anxiety and panic attacks.

But Garcia emphasized the potential for psilocybin to help people. He said his legislation is aimed at de-incentivizing federal agencies from enforcing restrictions on the use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms in places that have passed laws providing for some lawful local access to them.

Pro-psychedelic advocates worry that raids and other law enforcement actions could have a chilling effect on efforts to expand access to these powerful drugs for therapeutic purposes.

The congressman’s two-page bill states that it would “prohibit the use of Federal funds [to prevent] a State from implementing their own laws with respect to psilocybin.”

If California is going to legalize psilocybin “for the right use in a way that’s responsible and that is going to be provided to folks … for medicinal purposes, the federal government should not be in the business of criminalizing folks in California, and certainly not cities across the state,” Garcia said.