CC0 Public Domain.

November 4, 2020; Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Guardian

Just in case we start getting bogged down in discussing the fight for the presidency (and the US Senate and House of Representatives), we remind you there were also some interesting outcomes around the country in terms of ballot questions.

One issue on the ballot in multiple states on Tuesday was drug decriminalization, and in every state where it was proposed, it was passed. In most places, the drug in question was recreational marijuana; the removal of criminal penalties was passed in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, while in Mississippi and South Dakota, medical marijuana was legalized. But in Oregon and Washington DC, the proposals went a little further afield: The District of Columbia decriminalized an array of psychedelic plants and fungi, while Oregon, through Measure 110, also decriminalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin but further decriminalized the possession of all illegal drugs—including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines—for personal use. (Use of those drugs remains illegal but having them on your person is not a crime.)

The same measure will institute reforms to reduce disparities in drug arrests and sentencing that are projected to result in a 95 percent drop in disparities. Poppy Noor writes for the Guardian, “Proponents of the [Oregon] measures are hopeful that the changes will reduce overdose deaths; reduce racial disparities in drug sentencing and arrests; and drastically improve services for drug users across the country.”

The nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance drafted and funded the measures in Oregon. “Drug possession is the most arrested offense in the United States,” they write, “with one arrest every 23 seconds. Last night, Oregon showed the world that a more humane, compassionate approach is possible. Measure 110 will serve as a model and starting point for states across the country to decriminalize drug use.”

The Alliance does not do electoral work itself, but partners on advocacy and political action through Drug Policy Action. They say $100 million could be saved per year “in law enforcement savings (from reduced arrests and incarceration) and increased tax revenue from drug sales.” This effort is connected to the decarceration movement (which itself is connected to the defunding of the police), and the money saved by its implementation will to go to treat addiction—treatment for which, in Oregon, is rated third-lowest in the nation.

Other ballot questions passed in Oregon would implement an additional cigarette tax—the revenues from which would go to prevent tobacco use—and require additional transparency on political contributions.—Ruth McCambridge