This Election Day is shaping up to be a crucial moment for the movement to end the war on drugs – with Michigan and North Dakota voting on marijuana legalization, Utah and Missouri deciding on medical marijuana, and Ohio choosing whether to reduce drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. The results are expected to have ramifications for drug law reform efforts in cities and states across the U.S., at the federal level, and even internationally.
“With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Marijuana legalization and other drug policy reforms have played a critical role in numerous gubernatorial races in states such as California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and New Mexico, and in scores of local, state and federal legislative races all over the country.
“The public has long believed that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not as a criminal issue. It’s encouraging to see so many political candidates finally getting on board,” added McFarland.
Experts from the Drug Policy Alliance are available for in-studio, remote and phone/Skype interviews to provide insight and analysis on the midterm election:
• Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, on the Trump Administration’s approach to marijuana legalization and the national and international ramifications of today’s election.
• Michael Collins, DPA’s interim director of national affairs, on what the midterm elections mean for marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform, and federal drug policies.
• Tamar Todd, DPA’s director of legal affairs, on the context of each of this year’s ballot initiatives on marijuana legalization and medical marijuana. Todd has co-authored several state and local ballot initiatives and statutes, including Amendment 64 in Colorado and Proposition 64 in California.
• Jolene Forman, DPA staff attorney, on the implications of today’s results for marijuana legalization and other drug policy reforms. Forman is author of the recent DPA report, From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization, and has authored multiple pieces of state legislation, including marijuana legalization and racial and ethnic impact statement bills.
Here are some of the drug policy measures we’ll be watching closely:
Michigan: Proposal 1 would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older and allow for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation for person use of up to 12 plants. Proposal 1 establishes a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products. There were over 200,000 marijuana arrests in Michigan from 2007 through 2016, averaging roughly 21,000 per year. Of those arrests, 84% were for personal possession.
North Dakota: Proposition 3 is a grassroots effort that would legalize marijuana for adults age 21 and older. The initiative does not require specific possession limits. It substantially reduces penalties for youth. And, it expunges past criminal records for marijuana related conduct that the initiative makes lawful.
Missouri: Missouri has three separate medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, all of which would provide legal access to medical marijuana for patients with certain qualifying conditions. For example, Amendment 2 would create a robust system of access for patients through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services while allowing physicians to decide when medical use is appropriate.
Utah: Proposition 2 would protect terminally and seriously ill patients with specific debilitating medical conditions from arrest and prosecution. It would establish a regulatory system to license and regulate the production and distribution of medical marijuana. Regardless of whether the initiative passes, Utah Governor Gary Herbert, state lawmakers, and the initiative proponents have come to an agreement to focus together on legislation to allow for legal access to medical marijuana following the election.
Ohio: Issue 1 would reduce the number of people incarcerated in state prison for low-level offenses by changing personal drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. It would require a graduated response for probation violations and authorize the use of earned time credit incentives, further reducing incarceration rates. All the cost saving from the measure would go to fund drug treatment programs.
Florida: Amendment 4 would automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions upon completion of their sentences, except for those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. It would re-enfranchise an estimated 1.5 million people. Florida is the only state in the country that requires a 60% vote to pass a ballot initiative. As in many other states, drug possession is charged as a felony in Florida.
Wisconsin: Eighteen jurisdictions will vote on non-binding, advisory questions related to marijuana legalization.
Ohio: Six municipalities will vote on local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana (Dayton, Fremont, Garrettsville, Norwood, Oregon, and Windham).