Things That Matter

The ‘War On Drugs’ Is Changing As Voters Across The Country Continue To Legalize Marijuana

Across the United States, weed has become so normalized it’s barely even cool anymore. Many blame the likes of Martha Stewart and Elon Musk for taking the edge off the marijuana industry but it was a process long in the making.

Long gone are the days of dirty bongs, replaced by high-tech vaporizers and edibles ranging from extravagant chocolate candies to curated, catered dining experiences. Brewers are dabbling in non-alcoholic THC beers, and the country’s first-ever weed restaurant, where you can smoke and dine in public without feeling anything more than your regular dose of paranoia, opened in West Hollywood. 

Obviously, legalization has a lot to do with that. In the U.S., recreational marijuana legalization is seeing victories on a state-by-state basis. In the 2016 election, which was bad for most reasons but good for this one, four states got on board, raising the total to eight states to legalize since Colorado kicked off the movement in 2012. 

Now, we can add at least four more states to that ever growing list of places in the U.S. where adults over 21 can legally use marijuana.

Legal weed got a major boost on Election Day as at least three states voted to approve its use.

With Election Day votes, some 16 million Americans have been added to the list of places where adults can legally use marijuana. Voters in New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved ballot measures on weed.

They will join about 93 million Americans who live in states that already have legalized weed, meaning about 1 in 3 Americans now live in states where marijuana is legal for anyone at least 21 years old.

The initiatives would only be the first step in the process, said John Hudak, deputy director at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in state and federal marijuana policy. After voters approve the measures, he said, the state legislatures normally would need to set up regulatory structures within each state. Currently, 11 states have legalized full, adult marijuana use.

Many credit this year’s success to reworked ballot questions that highlight racial inclusivity.

In Arizona, where a similar ballot measure failed just four years ago, advocates credit higher support for this year’s effort to a reworked ballot question.

Besides legalizing marijuana, the proposition would set up a pathway to strike prior convictions for marijuana from criminal records and includes a provision for home growers.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey opposed this year’s ballot measure, asking voters to again vote “No.”

“The current system with medical marijuana is serving the people who need it for health-related reasons,” Ducey wrote in the state’s compilation of arguments for and against the measure, provided to voters. “We don’t need the wholesale expansion that full-throttle legalization will bring.”

After such strong support for marijuana’s legalization, many are now calling on the federal government to act.

The momentum in states, including deep red parts of the country, should be a call to action for the federal government, since marijuana remains illegal under federal law. 

“Regardless of who controls the White House, the House and the Senate, we should demand landmark federal marijuana reform in 2021,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, told Politico.

Regardless of what actions the remaining states and the federal government take, it’s important that any future legislation include provisions that strike prior offenses from records (since those most likely targeted were Black men) and offer protections for home growers.

Marijuana wasn’t the only winner last night – Oregon voted to decriminalize all drugs.

Credit: Josh Edelson / Getty Images

Thanks to voters, Oregon will be the first state in the country to decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Oregonians passed Ballot Measure 110 with 59 percent of the vote; it’s the most far-reaching of numerous successful drug-related measures on ballots nationwide.

The success of Measure 110 is a rebuke to the notion that any person who uses drugs, no matter what the substance, is best served by an interaction with the police and prison system.

“This is part of how we reform policing: by getting them out of the drug business,” wrote Brooklyn College sociology professor Alex Vitale, author of “The End of Policing,” on Twitter.

It’s worth noting that decriminalizing drugs isn’t the same as legalizing them. Oregon’s law will remove the criminal penalties for small amounts of illegal substances. After February 1, the penalty for drug possession will be akin to a hefty traffic ticket: a $100 fine.

Those who cannot or do not want to pay can choose to agree to a “health assessment” at an addiction recovery center. The ballot measure also includes the expansion of access to recovery treatments, housing, and harm reduction services, to be funded through the reallocation of tens of millions of dollars from Oregon’s cannabis tax. Money saved by not arresting, prosecuting, and caging people found with drugs will also be redirected to a fund for treatment services.

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