US voters embrace landmark drug reform measures in 2020 election
While the 2020 US election has turned into a nail-biter with a deeply partisan divide splitting the country with razor-thin margins, a broad array of ballot measures relating to drug reform have turned out to be some of the only things Americans seem to agree on. A profoundly progressive wave of drug reforms have been passed by US voters, including four states legalizing recreational marijuana, one state decriminalizing natural psychedelics, and Oregon decriminalizing all drugs and legalizing psilocybin psychotherapy.
Four states passed new recreational marijuana measures in the 2020 election. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota passed legalization measures introducing laws allowing for recreational use of marijuana. These measures will most likely manifest practically in ways similar to recreational roll-outs of marijuana in other US regions over the past few years. South Dakota and Mississippi both also passed ballot measures legalizing medical marijuana.
Contrasting the tight margins seen in the presidential race, these marijuana ballot measures passed much more comfortably. Although there are still small volumes of votes being counted, most of these measures have been approved by voters by around 10 percentage points.
Arizona, for example, is an effective example of the growing progressive attitudes to drug policy in the United States. The state said no to marijuana legalization in 2016, although the results were tight – 51.6 percent against versus 48.6 percent in favor. Now, in 2020, when presented with marijuana legalization again, Arizona is roundly in favor with the current count sitting at 59 percent for and 40 percent against.
Building on a growing groundswell of local decriminalization at city and municipal levels, both Oregon and Washington, D.C. passed significant new measures.
D.C. overwhelmingly passed Initiative 81, a broad decriminalization measure targeted at entheogenic plants and fungi. The ballot measure, passed with a remarkable 75 percent majority, declares “police shall treat the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi among the lowest law enforcement priorities.”
The measure is somewhat similar to a resolution passed by the Oakland City Council in 2019 that decriminalized the adult use of all entheogenic plants. These "natural psychedelics" include magic mushrooms, cacti containing mescaline, and the plant materials used in the psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca.
Unsurprisingly, Oregon passed a pair of the most progressive drug reform measures in the country. Measure 110, also known as the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, is arguably one of the most radically progressive drug reform measures seen in the United States.
The measure, currently 58 percent in favor to 41 percent against with the count ongoing, essentially decriminalizes personal possession of small amounts of any drug. Once certified and passed it means possession of small amounts of any controlled drug, including heroin and cocaine, will result in either a US$100 fine and/or health assessment at an addiction recovery center.
The comprehensively considered initiative in some ways resembles a model that has been in effect for some time in Portugal. While the legal status of drugs remain unchanged, with manufacturing and distribution remaining criminal offenses, possession becomes a healthcare issue and not a criminal justice one.
Measure 110 allows for tax dollars gathered from legal marijuana sales to be transferred into a fund that builds and manages addiction recovery centers. These centers will provide support for those found possessing small volumes of drugs.
Psilocybin therapy legalization
The other landmark initiative passed in Oregon was Measure 109, also known as the Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative. This measure essentially legalizes psilocybin psychotherapy ahead of any FDA approval.
Much like the Oregon decriminalization initiative, this measure is well considered with great specificity focusing solely on the legal administration of psilocybin mushrooms in licensed clinical environments. Measure 109 will not permit recreational use of psilocybin, and it establishes a long two-year development and consolation period designed to rigorously establish new licensing, taxation and administrative bodies to oversee these new psychedelic clinics.
Ultimately, this means psychedelic clinics administering psilocybin psychotherapy are not likely to appear in Oregon before the end of 2022. However, this is still sooner than any likely FDA approval for psilocybin therapy, which is still probably up to five years away.