Gov. Gavin Newsom, perhaps taking his presidential ambitions into account and trying to appeal to “moderates,” last weekend vetoed two bills favored by drug reformers: one to decriminalize a limited number of psychedelics, and the other to allow cannabis cafes that serve food and beverages.
On the other side of the coin, the governor also vetoed a fairly ridiculous bill that would have created onerous labeling and advertising restrictions for cannabis products.
The psychedelics bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener, San Francisco Democrat, would have removed criminal penalties for the possession and use of psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms,” DMT and mescaline. Although the bill, if signed, would have directed the state to create guidelines for the use of the substances in mental-health treatment settings, Newsom said in his veto statement that those guidelines need to be created before he can sign such a bill.
After extolling the proven therapeutic benefits of the substances, Newsom wrote:
“California should immediately begin work to set 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. Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign it.”
He’s right that guidelines need to be established. But in his statement, he never even tried to explain why people possessing or using the substances—now including, for example, veterans seeking relief for post-traumatic stress disorder—should continue to be at risk of facing criminal charges for it.
Andrew DeAngelo, founder of the Harborside dispensaries and a longtime medical-cannabis advocate, expressed the disappointment of reformers on Twitter or X or whatever it’s called now. “This was a good bill,” DeAngelo wrote. “A solid piece of public policy. He screwed up cannabis and now he’s doing it again with psychedelics.”
Wiener issued a statement vowing to keep pressing the matter. “The evidence is beyond dispute that criminalizing access to these substances only serves to make people less safe and reduce access to help,” he said. “This veto is a huge missed opportunity for California to follow the science and lead. This is not the end of our fight, however, and given the Governor’s commitment to work with the legislature on legislation with a therapeutic focus—and openness to future decriminalization legislation—I look forward to introducing a therapeutic-focused legislation next year.”
Newsom might have been a bit more justified in his decision to veto the cannabis-cafes bill…or at least he explained his reasoning. In his veto statement, he noted that a law allowing dispensaries to serve food and drinks in their consumption lounges, which are currently legal, might have conflicted with the state’s smoke-free workplace policies. The bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Matt Haney, San Francisco Democrat. In a statement, Haney said the bill’s aim was to help the struggling cannabis industry. “If we keep allowing unnecessary regulations to strangle California’s legal cannabis businesses, we’re just encouraging illegal drug sales and all of the problems that come with that,” he said.
The labeling and advertising bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, Thousand Oaks Democrat, was designed to prevent cannabis products from being “attractive to children” by heavily restricting what is allowed on product labels. This is a tough—though not particularly severe—problem, given that some cannabis products look a lot like the candy you see in a store.
But the restrictions were too much for both industry advocates and Newsom, who called the restrictions “overly broad.” Images of people and animals would have been disallowed, as would images of fruits and vegetables. Newsom said the bill would have banned manufacturers from using “commonplace designs.”
The California Cannabis Industry Association issued a statement lauding Newsom’s veto, saying the bill “posed a significant threat” to the struggling industry and “inadvertently favoring the illegal market,” which is still about double the size of the legal market in California.
Perhaps next year, the governor and the Legislature will come up with substantive approaches to dealing with that overall problem. Say, by significantly lowering the state’s excise tax on pot sales, which is the main thing sending consumers away from their local dispensary and toward their neighborhood pot peddler.