SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California legislature has passed Senate Bill 58, which decriminalizes the possession and personal use of psilocybin, psilocin, DMT and mescaline.

If Gov. Newsom signs the bill, California will become just the third state in the nation to decriminalize psychedelics. 

Like many other veterans, Hugh-Michael Higgs was heavily impacted by his 30-year career as a Navy SEAL. 

What You Need To Know

  • Senate Bill 58 decriminalizes the possession and personal use of psilocybin, psilocin, DMT and mescaline

  • If Gov. Newsom signs the bill, it will go into effect at the start of 2025

  • Research has shown promising therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for conditions like Depression and PTSD

  • Some psychedelic substances also carry cardiovascular and psychiatric risks

“I was a sniper over there, looking for an IED emplacer. I shot him, he blew up, and we ended up killing 27 people in the market. I struggled with that for a long time,” Higgs said. 

When Higgs retired from the service, he was desperate to heal from the trauma he had endured. He tried several forms of therapy, went on powerful psychotropics, and even sought hypnosis, but no treatment seemed to work.

That is, until he traveled out of the country and tried psychedelics. 

“When I did ibogaine, it really moved the biggest rock out of the way first. Since then, I’ve done ayahuasca, heavy psilocybin, I’ve done San Pedro,” Higgs said. 

Higgs was so transformed by psychedelics that he became an advocate for their decriminalization, working with groups like TREAT California and now that Senate Bill 58 has passed through the state legislature, his hopes may become a reality.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s author, wrote SB58 with folks like Higgs directly in mind. 

“Veterans and anyone suffering from PTSD and Depression should not face criminal penalties for seeking relief,” Senator Wiener wrote in a statement on his website.

But not everybody is on board with the bill.

Many law enforcement agencies, like Burbank Police Officers’ Association, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, and Los Angeles Professional Peace Officers Association, have come out in opposition to the bill’s passage.

Other organizations, like the conservative, faith-based advocacy group California Family Council, have also come out against Senate Bill 58.

According to Greg Burt, the organization’s director of capitol engagement, decriminalizing psychedelics is a dangerous and misguided endeavor. 

“Psychedelics have been illegal because although they might have some positive effects, there’s lots of negative effects. They ruin lives, people hallucinate, they cause terrible side effects like mental illness,” Burt said. 

Burt is open to the idea that psychedelics could be helpful to folks like Higgs suffering from PTSD, but says if that’s the case, those substances should be administered in controlled settings by professionals. He also claims that politicians cynically used veterans to further their legislative agendas. 

“This is about personal, recreational use. The veterans were a ruse. This was not about veterans. They were the sympathetic prop,” Burt said. 

Michael recognizes some people may be helped most by clinical settings, but says others benefit more from personal and ceremonial rituals.

“I don’t want to see these substances be taken from the people themselves where they only fall into licensed practitioners’ hands. Medicine has been used around the world for millennia without licensed practitioners, but some people do need that level of care,” Higgs said. 

Ongoing research has shown psychedelics may have significant therapeutic benefits for conditions like depression and PTSD, but also carry risks of interfering with typical cardiovascular activity and triggering episodes of paranoia.

As more research is done to better understand the specific benefits and risks of each psychedelic substance, decriminalization efforts will likely gain steam across the country.

If Gov. Newsom signs Senate Bill 58, it will go into effect at the start of 2025.

Until then, Higgs plans to continue his advocacy for the substances he credits with saving his life and continue his own healing journey with psychedelics.