Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. approved marijuana legislation on Tuesday night, legalizing the sale, possession, and use of marijuana for adults over 21.
Oregon’s ballot measure was modeled on the successful legislation that previously passed in Colorado and Washington State, which will also create a regulatory and tax system for commercial production and distribution of marijuana.
“It’s always an uphill battle to win a marijuana legalization initiative in a year like this, when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes today’s victory all the sweeter,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber.”
Guam also legalized medical marijuana, while voters in Florida rejected a similar measure—the only high-profile marijuana reform initiative to fail on Tuesday night.
Legalization advocates heralded the sweeping win as a huge victory.
“This Election Day was an extraordinary one for the marijuana and criminal justice reform movements,” Nadelmann said. He noted that the measures passed even in conservative states and as Republicans won at the polls, showing that “[r]eform 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,” Nadelmann added.
Alaska was the last state to call its approval of the ballot measure. NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Communications Director Erik Altieri called it the “coda to a perfect evening for marijuana legalization supporters.”
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Personal responsibility is often a prominent focal point of marijuana reform. In Washington, D.C., advocates turned a spotlight on another important aspect of legalization: giving dignity to victims of the country’s racist drug war, as statistics show a majority of marijuana arrests are made on African Americans, despite an equal or higher use of the drug by white people.
D.C. has the highest per capita rate of marijuana arrests in the country. African Americans make up about half of the district’s total population, but 91 percent of those arrests.
The issue of legalization in D.C. is not yet fully resolved, as Congress has the authority to overturn laws passed in the district. Before the election, D.C. Cannabis Campaign chairman Adam Eidinger said he was concerned that “members of Congress will use their power to stop District of Columbia voters from being able to fully participate in the democratic process.”
The measure will now face 30 days of congressional oversight. If Congress does not take action to overturn the initiative in that time, it will become law. As the DPA notes, marijuana reform has friends in high places—Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), the current top Republican on a Senate panel with oversight over D.C. affairs; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.); and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson have all expressed their support of the measure and have stated that they would oppose any interference with its implementation.
On Tuesday night, those who fought for legalization remained hopeful.
“This was the first legalization campaign in which the racial disproportionality of marijuana enforcement played a major role,” said Bill Piper, DPA’s director of national affairs. “Initiative 71 sets the stage for the D.C. Council to create a new model for legalizing marijuana—one that places racial justice front and center.”
DPA policy manager Dr. Malik Burnett agreed, stating, “The people of D.C. have voted in favor of ending racially-biased marijuana prohibition. The harms caused by the war on drugs are not fixed with this vote alone; the real healing begins with the D.C. Council developing a tax and regulate system which is based on racial and social justice.”
“Voters in the nation’s capital have taken a strong stance against marijuana prohibition,” Altieri said. “This victory sends a resounding message to Congress that Americans are ready to legalize marijuana for adult use and, with it right in their backyard, it will be a message that is hard to ignore.”
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