Election 2020

As Nation Holds Breath, the War on Drugs Is Quietly Abandoned

Decriminalization measures have won across the United States.

By , a journalist based in Toronto.
A customer leaves the MOCA Modern Cannabis dispensary in Chicago on on Jan. 22.
A customer leaves the MOCA Modern Cannabis dispensary in Chicago on on Jan. 22. Scott Olson/Getty Images

While the final election results remain in flux, a clear trend emerged at the ballot box Tuesday: Americans are ready to move on from the war on drugs. Four states—New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota—have, based on preliminary results, voted to legalize cannabis. The District of Columbia, where marijuana is already legal and regulated, has voted to decriminalize psychoactive mushrooms and roots, specifically psilocybin mushrooms and mescaline.

But it was Oregon that took the big swing. The Pacific Northwest state voted to legalize and regulate the prescription of psilocybin mushrooms for medicinal purposes and to decriminalize all currently illicit substances, turning drug possession into a low-level felony. Under the new regime, arrests for drug possession would be either punishable by a $100 fine or would require a referral to a health center—all funded by the proceeds of the state’s cannabis tax. The regime resembles the Portuguese model, which aims to treat drug use as a medical, not criminal, issue.

Other criminal justice reform measures didn’t fare quite as well. Oklahoma rejected a measure to reduce sentencing measures for nonviolent crimes, and a much-touted measure to end California’s cash bail regime seemed headed for defeat. In no-brainer territory: Utah and Nebraska have adopted constitutional amendments to fully abolish slavery, even as punishment for a crime.

While the final election results remain in flux, a clear trend emerged at the ballot box Tuesday: Americans are ready to move on from the war on drugs. Four states—New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota—have, based on preliminary results, voted to legalize cannabis. The District of Columbia, where marijuana is already legal and regulated, has voted to decriminalize psychoactive mushrooms and roots, specifically psilocybin mushrooms and mescaline.

But it was Oregon that took the big swing. The Pacific Northwest state voted to legalize and regulate the prescription of psilocybin mushrooms for medicinal purposes and to decriminalize all currently illicit substances, turning drug possession into a low-level felony. Under the new regime, arrests for drug possession would be either punishable by a $100 fine or would require a referral to a health center—all funded by the proceeds of the state’s cannabis tax. The regime resembles the Portuguese model, which aims to treat drug use as a medical, not criminal, issue.

Other criminal justice reform measures didn’t fare quite as well. Oklahoma rejected a measure to reduce sentencing measures for nonviolent crimes, and a much-touted measure to end California’s cash bail regime seemed headed for defeat. In no-brainer territory: Utah and Nebraska have adopted constitutional amendments to fully abolish slavery, even as punishment for a crime.

Justin Ling is a journalist based in Toronto.

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