Will California Legalize Mushrooms?

By Paul Gaita 09/01/17

A proposal to legalize magic mushrooms may wind up on the 2018 statewide ballot.

small poisonous mushrooms toadstool group psilocybin

The California State Attorney General's office has received a legislative proposal that would allow voters to decide whether to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2018.

The proposal, filed on August 25 in Sacramento, was submitted by Kevin Saunders, a long-time marijuana advocate who is also running for mayor of the Central Coast city of Marina, located in Monterey County. The measure needs more than 300,000 valid signatures to earn a spot on the 2018 statewide ballot, but Saunders hopes that growing support for the naturally occurring drug as an alternative treatment for anxiety and depression—as 2016 studies have suggested—will help psilocybin follow a path from Schedule I drug to legality in the same manner as marijuana in his home state.

Saunders' initiative seeks to exempt adults ages 21 and over from "criminal penalties and decriminalizes adult use of psilocybin," as well as any penalties that would occur from the "possession, sale, transport and cultivation" of the drug.

He believes that current changing attitudes towards legalization efforts warrant the consideration of his initiative. "What I want to do is take the shackles off," he told the Sacramento Bee. "I want to have an adult conversation. We think that things are evolving so quickly and that minds are opening almost daily." 

But while the notion of using mushrooms as medical therapy has found its supporters—a June 2017 poll on YouGov.com saw 63% of respondents approve the idea—outright legalization still faces an uphill battle.

In an interview with LA Weekly, Tamar Todd, senior legal affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), said, "There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to run or support a ballot measure [on psilocybin] in California, and DPA does not yet have a position on this measure at this time." And while some members of the scientific community appear encouraged by its therapeutic potential, others seem to support caution in regard to legalization efforts.

"We're just scratching the surface in regards to our knowledge of psilocybin," said Dr. Charles Grob, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and the first researcher to receive federal approval to study the effects of psilocybin. "It may be of great benefit to some but harmful to others."

For his part, Saunders believes that concerns about mushrooms are far outweighed by their potential for good. "I think we're seeing something that could literally heal our brothers and sisters," he states. "We're talking about real cutting-edge stuff."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.