Drugs

Drugs Declare Victory in War on Drugs

States where recreational use has been legalized now include about a third of the U.S. population.

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The 2020 elections delivered a resounding victory for drug policy reformers, who won everywhere their proposals were put to a vote. Across the country, in red and blue states, on both coasts and in between, in the Midwest and the Deep South, voters passed ballot initiatives that not only continued to reverse marijuana prohibition but also broke new ground in making drug laws less punitive and more tolerant.

New Jersey's approval of marijuana legalization was expected. Preelection surveys consistently put public support above 60 percent, although the actual margin of victory was a few points bigger than the polls suggested.

The outlook in Arizona, where voters rejected legalization in 2016, had been iffier. Public support averaged 56 percent in five polls conducted from mid-May to mid-October, and voters have been known to have second thoughts about legalization as Election Day approaches. In the end, legalization won by nearly 20 points. Survey averages likewise underestimated public support in Montana, where voters approved legalization by a 14-point margin, and Mississippi, where voters favored a relatively liberal medical marijuana initiative by a margin of nearly 3–1.

And who would have predicted that South Dakotans, who are overwhelmingly Republican and conservative, would make their state the first jurisdiction in the country to simultaneously legalize medical and recreational marijuana? Voters favored the former measure by more than 2–1, while the latter won by eight points.

The South Dakota results were not the only first. By a margin of more than 3–1, voters in Washington, D.C., approved quasi-decriminalization of "entheogenic plants and fungi," including psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, iboga root, and plants that contain dimethyltryptamine. That initiative, which says suppressing the use of such substances should be "among the lowest law enforcement priorities," goes further than similar measures enacted recently in Denver, Ann Arbor, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, since it applies to noncommercial production and distribution as well as possession and covers a wider range of psychedelics.

Oregon, meanwhile, became the first state to legalize psilocybin (the main psychoactive ingredient in "magic mushrooms") and the first to decriminalize possession of all drugs. The psilocybin initiative, which won by a margin of more than 11 points, allows adults 21 or older, regardless of whether they have a medical or psychiatric diagnosis, to consume the drug at state-licensed centers. The decriminalization measure, which was supported by nearly three-fifths of voters, makes low-level, noncommercial possession of controlled substances, which was previously a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a citable offense punishable by a $100 fine.

The 2020 returns confirmed that marijuana prohibition—which two-thirds of Americans oppose, according to Gallup—is on its way out. Fifteen states have now approved legalization, up from 11 before Election Day. States where recreational use has been legalized now include about a third of the U.S. population.

The results also pointed the way toward less oppressive treatment of other psychoactive substances. In 2019, when Denver became the first jurisdiction in the country to make psilocybin use a low law enforcement priority, it might have seemed like a symbolic victory with minimal practical consequences. But a similar Denver initiative dealing with marijuana, passed in 2007, helped pave the way for the 2012 legalization of cannabis in Colorado, the first state to allow recreational use. Less than two years after Denver's psilocybin vote, Oregon already has taken the next step.

Oregon's decriminalization initiative, which covers notorious substances such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine as well as psychedelics such as LSD, shows voters can be persuaded that it is wrong to treat drug users as criminals. They will instead be treated less severely than drivers who speed or park illegally. The initiative's backers estimated that it will reduce possession arrests by more than 90 percent. While drug users can avoid the $100 fine by undergoing a "health assessment" at an "addiction recovery center," they are not required to do so. The assessments are supposed to "prioritize the self-identified needs of the client."

Americans may not be ready to eliminate all penalties for drug use, let alone recognize the moral dubiousness of continuing to arrest and imprison people who merely aid and abet behavior that never should have been treated as a crime. But the history of marijuana reform shows that incremental changes can eventually lead to a fundamental reconsideration of the way the government treats psychoactive substances that politicians do not like.

NEXT: Brickbat: Nothing to See Here

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  3. Drugs won!!

    When is the victory parade? Will Towely be the grand Marshall? Which bowl game will be renamed the Bong Bowl? Or will it be the Reefer Classic? Will we get Alice B Toklas dispensing machines in airports?

    1. I’m sure most libertarians are celebrating by smoking methamphetamine with their 15 year old boyfriends.

      1. I love watching you cretins project – it shows me that I did, in fact, do it right when I decided to learn things.

    2. Drugs are the only way I’ll get rhough the coming decades of one party Democrat rule that the Republicans deliberately ushered in by hitching their wagon to a demented reality tv start.

      1. He’s not demented, well not yet anyway, he’s autistic.

        1. You’d know. . .

  4. Daily Reminder: Marijuana is a gateway drug to hard drugs, homosexuality, and atheism.

    1. reminder….. using the term “gateway drug” is a gateway to full indoctrination and brainwashing by those who think they should decide how you live your life.

    2. That’s so 80’s. Didn’t work then. Won’t work now.

    3. Well isn’t that special…you forgot SATAN though!

    4. Marijuana is a gateway drug to hard drugs, homosexuality, and atheism.

      And the problem with that is…..???

    5. COVID-19 lockdowns are a gateway to climate change lockdowns. California already has the hard stuff queued up.

    6. Daily reminder: Cannabis is a terminus substance that leads away from alcohol & hard drugs.

      Your homosexuality has nothing to do with it.

      Atheists are just smarter than you.

  5. Oregon’s decriminalization initiative, which covers notorious substances such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine as well as psychedelics such as LSD, shows voters can be persuaded that it is wrong to treat drug users as criminals. They will instead be treated less severely than drivers who speed or park illegally.

    Then isn’t it about time to treat illegal parkers less severely?

    1. This is oregon. They’d probably make it a crime to own or operate a vehicle if they could.

    2. Are your city/state budgets balanced? There is your answer.

  6. Just say no.

  7. The 2020 returns confirmed that marijuana prohibition—which two-thirds of Americans oppose, according to Gallup—is on its way out.

    He says this right after cataloging how laughably wrong the pollsters were in projecting the outcome of these ballot initiatives. And we know how well the pollsters performed in predicting the outcome of the elections.

    1. > And we know how well the pollsters performed in predicting the outcome of the elections.

      Trump wins by landslide! Sweeps California and New York! Hugo Chavez brought back from the dead to orchestrate the denial! War is over if you want it!

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  8. Encourage bad behavior and you get more of it.

    At least the cops don’t care much so we got that going for us which is nice.

    I’m sure it’ll all work out fine right.

  9. After failing to report that Sweden’s covid death rate was just one fourth that of America’s since July 1 (i.e. 114 vs 461 deaths per million), today’s Wall St Journal ran an extremely biased pro lockdown article entitled “Holdout Sweden Ends Its Covid-19 Experiment” that demonized Sweden’s decision to NOT lockdown industries and schools (and to NOT impose a mask mandate).
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/long-a-holdout-from-covid-19-restrictions-sweden-ends-its-pandemic-experiment-11607261658?mod=world_major_1_pos4

    But the Wall St Jrnl article, which excoriated Sweden in every paragraph (and praised countries that imposed lockdowns), never reported that Sweden’s daily and cumulative covid death rate have been far lower than the that in the US (and many other countries that imposed lockdowns) for the past five months.

    Now that Sweden’s daily rate of new cases and deaths have risen in the past two months (nearly identical to recent increases in the US), the Wall St Journal once again (as they did from March – June) has trashed Sweden’s libertarian response to covid as a total failure (but didn’t criticize the US or any other countries that imposed lockdowns and experienced higher mortality rates and economic losses than Sweden).

    And yet, according to the WSJ article, Sweden’s sudden change in covid policy only includes banning gatherings of more than 8 people, banning high schools, and limiting alcohol sales (whose details weren’t provided).

    In sum, Sweden has NOT imposed a lockdown, as the headline and article falsely/misleadingly insinuated, but have imposed very modest restrictions.

    I predict more anti Sweden and pro lockdown news articles in the next several days. And if Sweden’s covid death rate swiftly declines again (as it did from July to mid November), nobody will read any news stories about Sweden’s covid policy in the future.

    Nothing like opportunistic cherry picking propagandists to promote lockdowns, totalitarianism, and left wing socialism.

  10. I think conservative opposition is rooted in the belief that marijuana is a gateway to the metric system.

    1. Dude, they may sell large quantities in kilos, but we live by the ounce.

      1. Hey if you have Harley Hog do you want to be riding 1200ccs or 74-cubic-inches?

  11. Has there been any commentary on the firing of Shikha Dalmia? It was discussed a bit on the Reason Roundtable last week.

    This raises KMW’s status IMHO.

  12. New Jersey’s approval of marijuana legalization was expected.

    And the governor is already suggesting an “equity tax” on it, in the name of identity politics.

    Fuck Phil Murphy.

  13. The next question is whether Biden will follow Obama’s federal policies of busting growers and raiding pot dispensaries….

    1. Nah. At least not the state licensed ones that are not smuggling to other states. There are public companies involved now. Wall Street always wins.

      1. You have a point. Especially since the successful growers will be bought up by BigPharma and AmazonCannabis.

  14. I fought the drugs, and the drugs won.

  15. Well, it is only Mary Jane. And HIGHLY regulated. So a few small battles, maybe, but the War? No.

    1. “…Oregon … became the first state to legalize psilocybin and the first to decriminalize possession of *all* drugs… ”

      It’s a headlong retreat for the drug warriors, their demise is now certain.

      1. They just turned into tax and regulation warriors.

  16. Now states can use all the extra drug tax income to treat all the abusers. Well, at least until the money runs out. Then, back to the non-users to pay…

  17. Was The War On Drugs ever a legitimate war? I don’t think so.

    1. It never was, no.

      Alcohol Prohibition required a Constitutional amendment. . . Because “my body, my choice” wasn’t a good enough answer.
      Ditto the drug war. . . Except that no amendment was made, making the entire thing a criminal enterprise.

  18. Um. Alcohol prohibition has not ended. Just ask any 20-year old.
    These supposed pot “freedoms” are just the same. Just prohibition by another name. That name is “legalization”, but it ain’t free.

  19. That it is insane to attempt a “drug free America” is hardly news. 10 years ago Reason had another article with the almost exact same title as this one.

    It isn’t that I’m not happy about the decriminalization in Oregon and the limited legalization of mairjuana in Oregon, it’s that Reason is ignoging the high OD rate that is tied to increased prohibition going along with these increasing moves to concede defeat to drugs in limited areas.

    The prohibition measures that tend to belie the successes mentioned here is the homicide law for dealers when nearly all regular drug consumers are also dealers so that it is arbitrary if one will OD oneself or delivery the drug that causes OD death. And to a certain extent that is also a problem with the decriminalization laws in Oregon–all regular drug consumers are low leavel dealers so they are likely at one time or another to have more in their possession than could be personally used over a period of a few days.

    But what is most responsible for the increase in OD death is the tighter restrictions on prescription opioids, which some very erroneously don’t consider drug prohibition, but it is. And these restrctions on prescriptions are tied scarce supply and scarce supply means more concentrated and also more unpredictable (as a funciton of drugs in prohibition). Thus, the restriction of prescription opioids is the leading cause of Fentanyl in the illegal heroin supply and Fentanyl is the reason that regular drug consumers have trouble judging their dose and tend to OD.

    So, it is good to celebrate victories but the USA drug policy is still a horrific and deadly mess because of the homicide laws for dealers (which is an arbitrary punishment) and the restriction on presription opioids–the safest form for regular consumers, which forces more people who want opioids to be more dangerous illegal drugs.

  20. Victory ?

    For partial legalization of state-defined users usually with highly licensed business and drug taxes taxes.

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