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.

NEXT: Victories for Liberty, Property Rights, and Nondiscrimination on Three Major California Ballot Measures

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Oregon’s all-drugs measure is the biggest surprise, and it will be interesting to see what its effects will be.

    I think we can assume that DEA will not look the other way and let a semi-legal market exist in hard drugs as it has done with marijuana. On the other hand, they may allow it for some drugs that are not scheduled but are federally regulated, such as opioids, thus creating a much-needed haven for victims of the War on Pain Patients.

    1. One thing that is not outside the realm of possibility is that the current SCOTUS might overrule Raich.

  2. Here in the People’s Republic of NJ, we went ahead and legalized weed. The NJ People’s Duma is already discussing special sin taxes to be put on top of our already high sales tax.

    No home cultivation allowed.

  3. “greatly harms the poor and minorities”
    Of course Ilya. Those black and brown people need those drugs. How white of you to notice.

    1. No, silly. Think a little harder. Who can least afford lawyers to fight the government, who can least afford the bail to get back to their job, and who can least afford to lose their job while awaiting trial?

      I bet you drug cops know that answer too. There are enough drug users to keep 100 times as many drug warriors busy; but there aren’t enough jails or courts for all that, so they have to triage who they go after. Guess how they do that?

      1. “In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people – the colored. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”
        ―Giuseppe Zaluchi

  4. A total of “1t” states.

    You mean “11”?

  5. I love the idea that legal crack and heroin will benefit minority communities. As George Orwell said, one would have to be an intellectual to believe anything that stupid.

    1. You too need to think a little harder. Try this.

  6. Broke: Pack the court
    Woke: Pack the bowl

  7. I do not want to reveal anything. You can go on the white web, like Google, and have 50 million doses of a lethal drug delivered in the mail for $3000. There are Yelp reviews, with the German company having 4/5 stars, and the Chinese company having 2.5/5 stars.

    The lawyer profession is inadequate to controlling the internet. Billions of crimes are being committed on it, without any response by government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. It needs correction.

  8. This election is interesting and really shows some major shifts in American politics. The parties are re-aligning and the American people are changing their perception of “liberal” “conservative” “libertarian” etc.

    It is going to take a few years to sort out, but if I were the Dems even if they eeek out the Presidency, wouldn’t be overly optimistic about the mid-terms or the chances of keeping the WH in 4 years.

  9. Meth and heroin.

    Meth. And heroin.

    Congratulations, libertarians: may you get the society you deserve.

Please to post comments