African American Community Leaders Speak Against Legalizing Hallucinogens in California

By Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai
July 14, 2021 Updated: July 19, 2021

African American community leaders in California held a press conference on July 8 to voice opposition to a bill that would legalize hallucinogenic drugs in the state.

Senator Scott Wiener (D-Calif.) has stated that Senate Bill 519 is meant to address the war on drugs and to help veterans have better access to these drugs to manage their mental health needs.

“Let’s be clear that there’s another reason, and that is … the racist war on drugs, which has fueled mass incarceration and torn apart communities, particularly communities of color, but not made us any safer,” Wiener said during a press conference on June 28.

Attendees at the July 8 conference disagreed with Wiener.

“We are not the scapegoats who make drugs legal in this country. We are not,” Tak Allen, president of the Congress of Racial Equality, said during the conference. “If there is a senator, an assembly member, anybody who is an elected official that has a concern for the injustices of the African American community, write in that policy that speaks to that specifically. We don’t need more drugs.”

Wiener introduced SB 519 on Feb. 17. The bill aims to legalize certain hallucinogenic drugs, including, but not limited to LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, heroin, and MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy or molly).

If approved, the legislation would allow people 21 years of age or older to buy, use, and share hallucinogenic drugs without penalties.

“That’s what’s insidious and evil,” said Reverend Timothy Malone, Campus and Community Minister. “We know what drugs and devastation that is created in our communities, in all communities; red, brown, yellow, black, and white; rich, poor, and everyone in between.”

Carolyn Brown, minister and community advocate, said crimes such as robbery, rape, and violence are already widespread in the African American community.

“Our community opposes SB 519 completely, and we just need more structure. Let [drugs] stay in the hands of the physicians, the professionals, and not in the hands of our politicians,” she said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), hallucinogens are a schedule 1 drug, meaning they have a high potential for abuse and, currently, have no accepted medical use in the United States. These substances also have the most regulatory restrictions on research, supply, and access.

“If we’re very concerned about using these for medicinal value, medicinal reasons, go through the FDA like everybody else. Go through and get it taken off the controlled substances list, and have a licensed physician, have a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, who can handle these drugs and medications, run their trials. Do it the right way,” Allen said.

Jesse Williams, a community member, said that his community and the Veterans Association all oppose the bill, arguing that drug legalization will harm and set a bad example for younger generations.

In response to Wiener’s statement that legalizing hallucinogens will help veterans manage their mental health, Joe Collins, a U.S. Navy veteran, told The Epoch Times that hallucinogens aren’t a common prescription given to veterans.

“I think the majority of the things that we get are painkillers, really strong painkillers, more than hallucinogenics,” Collins said.

Loretta Breuning, mental health researcher, author, and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, sees this type of legislation as part of a larger effort to decriminalize drugs by treating them as a mental health problem rather than a crime.

“My experience is that the success rate of mental health treatment for addiction is extremely low,” Breuning told The Epoch Times.

Some Californians have been holding protests to oppose the measure. On June 25, people in San Francisco and Los Angeles called the bill out for potentially legalizing ketamine. According to the DEA, ketamine is sometimes used to assist in sexual assault crimes.

As of July 1, ketamine has been removed from the bill.

Older versions of the bill called for dismissing prior convictions related to drug use, but such wording has also been removed.

On July 13, SB 519 passed the Assembly Committee on Health in an 8–4 vote. The legislation is now awaiting a hearing and vote from the Committee on Appropriations followed by the State Assembly.

Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai