California should legalize psychedelics and learn from its marijuana regulation mistakes
Photo 130752474 © Andreistanescu |


California should legalize psychedelics and learn from its marijuana regulation mistakes

The state’s high cannabis taxes and burdensome regulations make legal marijuana products expensive and keep the illicit market thriving.

The decriminalization of psychedelics has become a mainstream policy issue. Following legal reforms in Colorado and Oregon, the California legislature is once again debating a bill that would establish a regulated market of psychedelic therapies. There is a growing body of medical research showing psychedelic-assisted therapies can be tremendously effective at helping treat anxiety, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and mental illness. California should make these services legally available to people.

California’s current proposal, Senate Bill 1012, rightly creates a regulated framework so psychedelic guides can gain certification through state-approved training programs and then legally administer therapy using best practices from established research and clinical trials.

Unfortunately, some of the state’s regulations would be cumbersome enough that even if psychedelics are legalized, many Californians suffering from these conditions may find it necessary to seek less costly treatments on the illicit market.

If passed in its current form, the psychedelics bill would imitate many of the mistakes California lawmakers made when regulating the legalization of marijuana. The state’s high cannabis taxes and burdensome regulations helped make legal marijuana products very expensive. As a result, roughly two-thirds of cannabis demand continues to be fulfilled by illegal suppliers more than six years after the state legalized it.

Rather than passing legalization legislation that overregulates psychedelics in ways that do more harm than good for patients and doctors, California could adopt best practices learned from activists and experts involved in Oregon and Colorado’s experiences.

As it stands, Senate Bill 1012 would likely create problems similar to those Oregon experienced following the creation of its regulated psychedelics market. In 2020, Oregon voters only approved legalized in-person, guided psilocybin services with professionals trained at state-certified schools. Sadly, the high costs of this approach have placed psychedelic therapy beyond the reach of many Oregonians who could benefit from it.

While illicit psilocybin-infused chocolate bars sell for just $60, a single legal psilocybin session can cost $3,000 in Oregon. Since many clinical trial protocols call for multiple administrations as part of a psychedelic treatment, a patient might need to pay more than $10,000 for four treatments in Oregon.

To reduce costs related to its legal licensing process, Colorado is exploring an apprentice-like system for students of psychedelic training schools so they can learn by legally working under the supervision of a more experienced facilitator. Proponents in Colorado have found that peer-based licensing, which is primarily experience-based and does not require other degrees, can help lower consumer costs without reducing safety.

In-person services are more costly and restrictive, especially for those who use psychedelics for chronic pain issues like migraines. Telehealth, where supervised patients self-administer medicines in between virtual appointments with a mental health professional, can reduce the costs of services. A bill recently introduced in New Hampshire proposed a telehealth-friendly system wherein psychedelics such as psilocybin could be sold through the state’s medical cannabis framework. A similar system would improve upon California’s SB 1012.

State Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, has championed multiple psychedelics bills over the years, including the one Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed last year. However, his fellow California legislators have continually bogged down Sen. Weiner’s proposals with unnecessary restrictions and onerous, costly requirements that patients and consumers would ultimately pay.

As California’s legal cannabis market shows, the policy details of legalization matter. When the legal market is too expensive and complex, the illicit market thrives.

California policymakers are right to continue to push for psychedelic legalization. Still, they also need to design therapy regulations that ensure legal psychedelic treatments are affordable and accessible for the Californians who need them most.

A version of this commentary first appeared in The Orange County Register.