Four More States Legalize Pot as Drug Law Overhaul Gains Traction Across Country

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Photo by Cannabis Culture via Flickr

In a measure that’s the first of its kind in America, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize drug possession — including for cocaine and heroin — after voters passed ballot Measure 110.

Adding to the collective momentum towards rehabilitation, voters in New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona, and Montana approved recreational and medical marijuana legalization ballot measures, while Mississippi voters agreed to legalize medical marijuana for qualified persons with debilitating conditions. 

Moreover, residents in Washington D.C. voted to decriminalize the use of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin mushrooms, Buzzfeed News details. 

Advocates and supporters of these measures say they are “a big step” toward ending the war on drugs, Vox News and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), and Marijuana Moment report. 

The approval of Oregon’s groundbreaking measure to decriminalize the personal possession of illegal, and often deadly drugs like cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and methamphetamine, is the latest step in lawmakers taking the advice of advocates and experts in new ways to address addictions. 

Measure 110 in Oregon now reclassifies possession of small amounts of drugs as a civil violation carrying only a $100 fine “which a person can avoid by agreeing to participate in a health assessment,” OPB reports. 

Selling and manufacturing drugs will continue to be illegal in Oregon, the ballot measure clearly outlines, as lawmakers highlight that the changes are to further help those with addictions — not incentivize drug use. 

This narrative is reiterated, as funds for health assessments will be added to addiction treatment and harm-reduction efforts that help people with addiction and use disorders. The money will be available through the reallocation of tens of millions of dollars generated by Oregon’s cannabis tax, Vox News explains. 

“It takes a lot of courage to try something new, and I’m really proud of our state,” said Haven Wheelock, a harm reduction specialist at Outside In, and one of the petitioners who filed the measure, according to OPB

“I’m excited to be a model for other places to show that we don’t have to harm people for being sick,” Wheelock continued. 

Advocates in Oregon are hoping that this form of drug decriminalization will spark the dialogue in other states to address addiction differently. 

“We saw this with marijuana, the domino effect,” Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance told OPB. “We are hoping that as the country is having conversations about how to use our resources, how to deal with our loved ones, that Oregon will potentially lead the way.

The domino effect that Frederique mentions in relation to marijuana is still a wave that is largely felt across the country, as voters from New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona, and Montana all approved recreational and medical marijuana legalization ballot measures, while Mississippi residents voted to legalize medical marijuana, Marijuana Moment reports. 

Now that all of these measures are approved the United States has 15 states where marijuana has been legalized. Counting by population, this means more than a third of Americans live in a state where marijuana has been legalized.

South Dakota made history in that respect as they went from having marijuana illegal to allow both medical use and recreational use, quite literally, overnight, Marijuana Moment explains. No other state in America’s history has tackled both prongs in one legislation, as legalization for medical and recreational use of marijuana typically takes a few years, CNN reports. 

In terms of retroactive and criminal provisions for marijuana cases, New Jersey has vowed to add an end to cannabis-related prosecutions for pending cases in new legislation that could be introduced as early as Thursday. 

Moreover, besides legalizing marijuana on their November ballot, Arizona residents also supported setting up a pathway to “strike prior convictions for marijuana from criminal records,” CNN details.  

When asked about these new reforms, Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic candidate for Maricopa County attorney, concluded to CNN, “If Arizona can do it, the rest of the country is ready.” 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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