Bill Decriminalizing Psychedelic Drugs Draws Criticism From Orange County’s Top Cop

April 15, 2021 Updated: April 15, 2021

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes is speaking out against a proposed bill that would legalize the possession and personal use of certain psychedelic drugs.

Senate Bill 519 (SB519), authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), passed the California Senate Health Committee April 14 with a vote of 6–1.

It will now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Barnes, in an April 12 letter to Senate Health Committee chairman Richard Pan, opposed the bill.

Drugs continue to plague California families,” Barnes said. “Drug-related deaths are increasing and the destruction caused by addiction continues to be evident on the streets of every city in our state.  Those suffering from substance abuse disorder [SUD] should not be criminalized, but their addiction should not be enabled.”

The proposed bill would decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, psilocyn (“shrooms”), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“ecstasy”), ketamine (similar in structure to PCP), dimethyltryptamine (DMT or “Dimitri”), mescaline (excluding peyote), and ibogaine.

“The right solution to our drug problem must include a strategy that encompasses multiple components including education, treatment and enforcement,” Barnes said. “Legalizing mind-altering hallucinogenic substances does little to help those with SUD and only perpetuates the nation’s drug epidemic.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, the drugs fall under the Schedule 1 Controlled Substances list, making them illegal to make, buy, possess, or distribute. While some cities have passed similar decriminalization laws, the drugs listed are still considered illegal under state and federal law.

The bill also calls for the expungement of any criminal records for people convicted of possession or personal use of the substances included.

Wiener, who presented SB519, said the legislation follows similar efforts to decriminalize the same substances in Washington, D.C., Oakland, and Santa Cruz.

“Criminalizing people for using psychedelics harms people’s health, perpetuates the failed war on drugs, and does nothing to make us safer,” Wiener said in a press release. “We know that psychedelics can help people struggling with mental health and addiction. Many combat veterans use these substances to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Instead of criminalizing and incarcerating people for using drugs, we need to provide treatment and support. The war on drugs has failed us, and we need a new approach to drug policy.”

The bill was co-authored by Sens. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), along with Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-San Jose) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).