DPA: Election Solidifies Drug Policy Reform as Mainstream Political Issue, Boosts Efforts to Legalize Marijuana in California and Elsewhere in 2016
Voters across the country have accelerated the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider drug war, with marijuana legalization measures passing in Oregon and Washington, D.C., while groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passed in California and New Jersey.
“This Election Day was an extraordinary one for the marijuana and criminal justice reform movements,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Oregon proved that Colorado and Washington were no flukes. Washington, D.C. voters sent a powerful message to Congress that federal marijuana prohibition has no place in the nation’s capital. Voters in Florida and Guam demonstrated that medical marijuana could win big even in fairly conservative jurisdictions. And California and New Jersey revealed an electorate eager to reduce prison populations and the power of the prison industrial complex.”
“These victories are even more notable for having happened in a year when Democrats were trounced at the polls,” added Nadelmann. “Reform of marijuana and criminal justice policies is no longer just a liberal cause but a conservative and bipartisan one as well. On these issues at least, the nation is at last coming to its senses.”
This November’s successes will boost efforts already underway in states such as California Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and Arizona to end marijuana prohibition in 2016.
There were a wider spectrum of drug policy reforms on the ballot this November than ever before in American history, on everything from sentencing and bail reform to marijuana legalization, far-reaching decriminalization and medical marijuana. Among the highlights:
- Oregon voters overwhelmingly elected to make their state the third in the nation to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana. Passage of Measure 91 accelerates the nationwide momentum in favor of legalizing marijuana and ending the wider drug war. Like the historic laws adopted in Colorado and neighboring Washington two short years ago, this new law will legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older and create a statewide system to regulate production and sales. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, was the single largest donor to the Oregon campaign and was deeply involved in the measure’s drafting and on-the-ground campaign.
- Voters in the District of Columbia have approved Initiative 71, a ballot initiative that legalizes possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and allows individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. D.C. laws prevented the ballot initiative from addressing the taxation and sale of marijuana, but the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill that would tax, regulate and strictly control the sale of marijuana to adults. Drug Policy Alliance and its sister organization, Drug Policy Action, provided significant financial assistance and played a leadership role in the Initiative 71 campaign – coordinating efforts around coalition building, voter outreach, and advising on the drafting of the law. DPA’s Dr. Malik Burnett also co-chaired the initiative’s campaign. It’s worth noting that this was the first legalization campaign in which the racial disproportionality of marijuana enforcement played a major role. (And it won with a whopping 69% of the vote — only 30 percent of voters cast ballots against the measure, and in only one of the city’s 143 precincts were there more votes against it than for it!)
- Alaska is on the verge of becoming the first “red” state and the 4th nationally to approve the legal regulation of marijuana. With 36% of precincts reporting, it’s leading with 53% support. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported this initiative with assistance on the drafting, as well as financial and other support for the campaign.
- Today, California voters took a significant step toward ending mass incarceration and the war on drugs by approving Proposition 47. On the heels of reforming the state’s “three strikes” law in the 2012 election, Californians overwhelmingly voted to change six low-level, nonviolent offenses – including simple drug possession – from felonies to misdemeanors. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported this initiative with assistance on its drafting, as well as financial support for the campaign.
- New Jersey voters have approved Public Question No. 1 to reform New Jersey’s bail system. This will reduce the number of people behind bars for low-level drug law violations and ushers in broader bail reform because it is linked to comprehensive legislation, already signed by the governor, that overhauls the state’s broken bail system. DPA’s New Jersey office played a pivotal role in this campaign.
- Fifty-seven percent of voters in Florida approved Amendment 2, a ballot initiative that makes Florida, with its huge population and bellwether status in American politics, the very first state in the South to see a majority vote in favor of a medical marijuana law. Nonetheless it won’t be enacted into law because Florida is the only state that requires 60% to pass a ballot initiative. Even though it won’t become law in Florida, it sends a powerful message throughout the South – and to Capitol Hill.
- Meanwhile, Guam’s medical marijuana initiative won by 56%, making it the first U.S. territory to approve such a law. Guam is quite conservative politically, and home to a significant U.S. military presence, so this resounding victory is another confirmation of medical marijuana’s broad support across the political spectrum. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported this initiative with assistance on its drafting.
- In New Mexico, voters in Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County voiced overwhelming support for marijuana decriminalization. Both the Santa Fe and Bernalillo County ballots asked voters whether they supported decriminalization of 1 ounce or less of marijuana at a city, county and state level. The passage of the advisory questions proves that voters in both counties want to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. While this does not yet change the current law, it is a vital step in ensuring elected officials know where New Mexicans stand on this issue. Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties represent a third of the state’s population. DPA’s New Mexico office played a pivotal role in these campaigns.