Purple Haze: Bipartisan, Nationwide Wins for Drug Ballot Initiatives
Joe Biden wasn’t the only big national winner last Tuesday. Voters across the nation who found drug law initiatives on their ballot overwhelmingly approved them.
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. Pre-election surveys consistently put public support above 60 percent, although the actual margin of victory was a few points bigger than the polls suggested.
Arizona, where voters rejected legalization in 2016, was 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 13-point margin, and Mississippi, where voters favored a relatively liberal medical marijuana initiative by a margin of nearly 3 to 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? Not me. Voters favored the former measure by more than 2 to 1, while the latter won by seven points.
“These results once again illustrate that support for legalization extends across geographic and demographic lines,” says Eric Altieri, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “The success of these initiatives proves definitively that marijuana legalization is not exclusively a ‘blue’ state issue, but an issue that is supported by a majority of all Americans—regardless of party politics.”
The South Dakota results were not the only first yesterday. By a margin of more than 3 to 1, voters in Washington, D.C., approved quasi-decriminalization of “entheogenic plants and fungi.” That initiative, which says suppressing the use of such substances should be “among the lowest law enforcement priorities for the District of Columbia,” 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 ibogaine, dimethyltryptamine, and mescaline in addition to psilocybin and psilocin (although it does not include a prohibition on the use of public funds to pursue such cases).
Oregon, meanwhile, became the first jurisdiction in the United States to legalize psilocybin and the first to decriminalize possession of all drugs. The first 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 psilocybin at state-licensed centers. The second 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.
And Scott Shackford knows just the man to move the legalize ball further down the field:
The extremely pro-marijuana results in last week’s ballot measures were not an anomaly—and to judge from current poll numbers, they shouldn’t be a surprise.
A Gallup poll released this morning shows that marijuana legalization is more popular than it has ever been, with 68 percent of all Americans supporting it.
Support for legalization crossed the 50 percent threshold in 2012 and hasn’t been back since. These numbers mean that marijuana legalization polls as well as same-sex marriage: About two-thirds of the country support each.
Demographically, majority support of legalization runs across all age groups, even those over 65. Opposition is still slightly greater than support among Republicans and among those who say they attend church weekly—but even among those groups, the anti-legalization position is a mere 52 percent. (Republicans actually crossed the 50 percent line in 2018, but they just dipped back down.)
Some government leaders resist, but even that may be starting to crumble. In Montana, one state lawmaker—Rep. Derek Skees (R–Kalispell)—said before Election Day that he would draft a bill overturning marijuana legalization if the voters passed it at the poll. When it passed overwhelmingly, with 57 percent of the vote, he dropped the plan. (Even so, opponents of marijuana legalization are now suing to reverse the new law.)
President-elect Joe Biden supports decriminalization, expunging the records of people convicted of marijuana possession, and shifting marijuana off of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. And yet he still opposes full legalization. This poll needs to be waiting on his desk in the Oval Office, along with a reminder of how he brags about evolving toward supporting same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama formally declared his support.