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Asm. Waldron Teams Up With Sen. Wiener to Legalize Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

After failing to get psychedelics legalized for recreational use several years in a row, Senator Wiener has found a willing Republican to help push for the legalization of hallucinogenic drugs as a treatment for mental illness. Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, joined by Senator Wiener, presented her psychedelic-assisted therapy bill, AB 941, before the Assembly Health Committee last week. Although it passed 11 – 0, one Democrat legislator on the committee, who happens to be a doctor, was very skeptical.

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Wiener’s bill, SB 58, to legalize certain hallucinogenic substances last October. However, in his veto message, Newsom indicated his eagerness to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelics, but only after the state sets up “regulated treatment guidelines – replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses.”

Waldron’s bill, AB 941, would set up a workgroup to study and make recommendations for these treatment guidelines, although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, as far back as the Nixon administration, has listed psychedelics as Schedule I substances because of the potential these drugs have to cause long-term physiological and psychological damage, including schizophrenia-type symptoms. 

One of the Democrats on the Assembly Health Committee, Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, M.D., expressed skepticism regarding the scientific proof available to show the effectiveness and safety of using psychedelics to treat mental illness. Weber said this new working group would need to show studies, with randomized controlled trials, showing the effectiveness of psychedelics, the side effects, and explain which patients should not take the drugs because of long-term consequences. 

“What material will they be studying from and how valid is that material they will be looking at?” Weber asked Waldron and Wiener during the hearing. A lot of the evidence she sees presented is anecdotal stories from individuals, but the committee isn’t hearing from those who have experienced negative side effects.

Wiener argued that “therapists” in California already supply psychedelics to patients “in the shadows” or users are going to Mexico for the drugs, so it was best to bring the use of the drugs out in the open with some government oversight. Weber wasn’t convinced. “You can’t control what everybody does, but when the state says it is okay to do it, I do think people assume at that point it is safe,” Weber responded. She hasn’t seen reliable scientific evidence convincing her psychedelics are safe. 

The push to legalize psychedelics as a treatment for mental illness outside the normal federal process is a nationwide effort. During the hearing, Wiener admitted he wanted to bypass normal channels for approving new drugs, which is typically done through the Food and Drug Administration. “We are not waiting for the federal government to bless it,” he said.

A prominent voice against the legalization of psychedelics is Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, the Director of the Center for Family Studies at the Family Research Council. Her extensive writings focus on three key areas: the national push for legalization, the lack of scientific support for the effectiveness of psychedelics, and the role of mainstream media in recasting the 1960s view of psychedelics to support legalization, similar to the approach used for marijuana.

Given the state of mind in the country, we must recognize that we are vulnerable to accepting interventions with big claims of success even when those claims are backed by bad science,” Bauwens wrote. “Just like other panaceas posed by pharmaceutical companies, psychedelics will be the next drug to enjoy the mirage of Big Science that is funded by our tax dollars.”

“Be a wise consumer of science and suspicious of claims about drugs that can heal every psychological pain — in this case, everything from resistant anxiety, posttraumatic stress, depression, alcohol, and tobacco abuse,” she advises.

Call to Action

Waldron’s AB 941 will next be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee later this week, Thursday, January 18th. Please call members of this committee to ask them to vote no on this bill. (Committee contact information) 


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