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The War on the War on Drugs


One encouraging sign from Tuesday was the success of drug decriminalization efforts, not all of them in blue states:

Oregon voters approved a groundbreaking initiative to decriminalize drugs. This is something that no other state has done, and it could reset conversations around drug reform nationally. 

Inspired by policies implemented in Portugal, Oregon’s Measure 110 makes low-level drug possession a civil offense, punishable by a fine, rather than jail time. Zachary Siegel wrote for The Appeal: Political Report that the result marks “a momentous shift in favor of a public health-focused approach to substance use, and a turn away from longtime policies that incarcerate people.” Advocates warn more work is needed to reduce law enforcement and inequalities, and vow to press further around the country.

The movement to legalize marijuana made sweeping gains on Election Day as well, with four states passing referendums to allow recreational cannabis. 

These measures passed by double-digit margins in Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey, and by a smaller margin South Dakota. As a result, there are now 15 states, in addition to Washington, D.C., where marijuana is legal. 

But when it comes to making amends for racial injustice, Kaila Philo laid out in the Political Report, this year’s marijuana legalization measures vary. 

There’s more: Oregonians supported a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes, while Washington, D.C., mostly decriminalized psilocybin. And Mississippi legalized medical marijuana; its initiative succeeded despite lawmakers’ attempts to derail it by adding a stricter alternative measure to the ballot. 

Candidates for prosecutor also won elections on promises to implement far less punitive policies toward drugs. 

José Garza, who won the DA election in Travis County (Austin), Texas, vowed to overturn the county’s approach to substance use. “Using our resources to prosecute these offenses increases the likelihood that people will commit future crimes, and that makes our community less safe,” he told the Political Report in June. He has gone a step further than other progressives who have recently run for DA, extending their commitment to not prosecute drug possession to sales as well. Meanwhile, in Jefferson County, Colorado, Alexis King, a Democrat who flipped the DA’s office from the GOP on Tuesday, favors not prosecuting drug possession. “The criminal justice system has become the catchment basin for public health issues,” she told the Political Report.

Sometime in the near future criminal bans on marijuana are going to seem as anachronistic as bans on same-sex marriage are to most young people now.

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