The majority of Americans – if not yet a majority of their elected officials – believe that the ongoing enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, impedes legitimate scientific research, engenders disrespect for the law and disproportionately impacts communities of color.
Although Americans were divided by political party on Election Day, voters across the political spectrum were largely united in their near overwhelming support for marijuana law reform.
The two most significant victories took place in Oregon and Alaska – where majorities of voters in both states backed measures legalizing the personal use of cannabis by adults and also regulating the plant’s retail production and sale. In Oregon, 56 percent of voters approved the measure, the highest percentage ever to endorse a statewide campaign to regulate adult marijuana sales. In Alaska, a so-called “red” state politically, more than 52 percent of voters backed marijuana law reform – a far greater percentage of the electorate than endorsed Republican Gov. Sean Parnell or Republican-turned-independent challenger Bill Walker.
Alaska and Oregon are the third and fourth states to enact regulations regarding the retail production and sale of cannabis goods, joining Colorado and Washington. All four measures have been enacted via voter initiatives. In short, the majority of voters in these states, like a majority of voters nationwide, agree that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or potential abuse.
(Though not specific to marijuana per se, 58 percent of Californians also approved Proposition 47 on Election Day, defelonizing certain drug possession crimes and allowing defendants to petition the courts for resentencing or expungement.)
Voters in the nation’s capital also provided a resounding victory for drug war reform on Election Day. An overwhelming 69 percent of Washington, DC, voters said “yes” to Initiative 71, which removes criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to three mature plants.
Washington, DC, voters were not alone in voicing their contempt for pot prohibition. In Michigan, voters in a half-dozen cities, including Saginaw and Port Huron, approved local ballot measures eliminating local criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses. Voters in South Portland, Maine, also endorsed a similar local ordinance.
In Massachusetts, voters in several state representative districts voted in favor of various nonbinding public policy questions calling on state officials to legalize and regulate cannabis-related commerce. Likewise, voters in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties in New Mexico decided in favor of advisory questions in support of the decriminalization of one ounce or less of marijuana. Bernalillo County, which includes the city of Albuquerque, and Santa Fe County represent a third of the state’s population.
Even in Florida, where drug prohibitionists are touting a “win” because a proposed amendment to legalize medical marijuana fell shy of the 60 percent support threshold necessary in that state to amend the state’s constitution, reformers gained a symbolic victory. Fifty-eight percent of Sunshine State voters endorsed the measure, including supermajorities in almost every age group except for those voters age 65 and older. In fact, there was not a single Florida county where a majority of voters rejected the measure.
The takeaway message is clear: The majority of Americans, if not yet a majority of their elected officials in Washington, believe that the ongoing enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, impedes legitimate scientific research into the therapeutic efficacy of the plant and its essential compounds, engenders disrespect for the law and disproportionately impacts communities of color. It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is objectively safer than either alcohol or tobacco.