A nationwide push to relax drug laws scored significant victories on Tuesday as four states voted to legalize marijuana, and Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs.
Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota passed state ballot measures to legalize recreational cannabis use, major victories in the movement to undo the harms of cannabis criminalization.
The states join the District of Columbia and 11 other states that have already legalized adult use of cannabis, which remains illegal at the federal level in the US. The win puts New Jersey on the path to have the largest weed market on the east coast and one of the largest in the US. It also increases pressure on neighboring states, particularly New York, to follow suit. New Jersey first has to establish rules before weed businesses open, so it’s unclear when the new industry will start.
And in Oregon, voters made history by passing the first state law in the US to decriminalize possession of hard drugs including heroin, cocaine and LSD. The measure backed by criminal justice reform groups is aimed at diverting people from jails and prisons by treating possession as a citation and expanding access to treatment and recovery.
Arizona’s measure legalizes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults and sets up a licensing system for retail sales, which could start in March. The state already has medical-marijuana dispensaries in operation. Montana’s measure calls for sales to begin in January 2022.
South Dakota voters approved proposals to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, a major shift after the state overwhelmingly rejected a medical pot measure four years ago.
The AP called the races hours after polls closed, and early results appeared to show wide margins in favor of legalization. A medical cannabis measure also passed in Mississippi.
The cannabis measures are also aimed at addressing the consequences of the war on drugs, with laws that have disproportionately targeted Black and brown people for arrests and jail time. Arizona’s law allows people with pot convictions to petition courts to have their records cleared.
The Oregon drug initiative will allow people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs to avoid going to trial, and possible jail time, by paying a $100 fine and attending an addiction recovery program. The treatment centers will be funded by revenues from legalized marijuana, which was approved in Oregon several years ago.
“Today’s victory is a landmark declaration that the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use,” said Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which backed the measure.
Oregon voters also approved a measure making it the first state to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms.
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