The Volokh Conspiracy

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A Big Night for Drug Legalization

Voters in four states voted to legalize recreational marijuana. In Oregon, they went much further.


A cannabis plant.


Yesterday was a big step forward for drug legalization, as voters in four states approved referendum initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana. That includes Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota. Mississippi voters approved more limited initiatives legalizing medical marijuana. All but the South Dakota measure passed by large double-digit margins, and even in South Dakota legalization prevailed by a solid 6-7 points. It's particularly notable that legalization prevailed so easily in deep-red Montana and South Dakota, and in the red/trending purple state of Arizona.

Yesterday's victories build on previous successes for marijuana legalization over the last several election cycles, including in 2018. Once the New Jersey state legislature passes implementing legislation for Question 1, there will be a total of 11 states where recreational marijuana is legal (plus the District of Columbia), covering one-third of the American population.

The state of Oregon went further by becoming the first state to decriminalize noncommercial possession of virtually all previously illegal drugs. Measure 110 also passed by a large margin (58-41). Decriminalization is not the same thing as full legalization. Still, it is a major step forward. If it catches on in other states, it could mark the beginning of the end of the entire War on Drugs, which severely undermines liberty, threatens our constitutional rights, and greatly harms the poor and minorities.

Marijuana possession, of course, still remains illegal under federal law. But that law is increasingly difficult to enforce without state cooperation. Moreover, the growing momentum for legalization might finally persuade Congress and whoever ultimately wins the presidential election to repeal federal prohibition.

In the meantime, those interested in these issues should consult co-blogger Jonathan Adler's excellent new book, Marijuana Federalism. As Jonathan and other contributors to that volume show, legalization at the state level has had a significant impact, even though it has not—yet—led to the total end of the War on Weed.