Voters across the country just approved massive drug reforms...Local leaders are overjoyed

After four states legalized marijuana and one decriminalized hard drugs, Boston experts are taking stock of the Bay State's place in drug reform conversations and celebrating nationwide progress.

Boston harm reductionists and drug policy reform advocates had plenty to celebrate coming out of Election Day, Tuesday, even as uncertainty hung over the presidential race.

Indeed, some say marijuana legalization in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, coupled with monumental drug decriminalization votes in Oregon and Washington DC may drive a nail into the coffin of drug war ideologies birthed in the 1980s and 90s.

“Drug reform appears to be the big winner tonight,” harm reductionist and local nurse practitioner Maggie Beiser tweeted early Wednesday morning. “Thank goodness for something.”

  • Marijuana legalization in South Dakota passed by a seven-point margin.

  • New Jersey favored its legalization by an overwhelming 33 points.

  • In Arizona, anti-marijuana-probation advocates won by 20 points while, in Montana, they eked out a slightly tighter 15-point victory.

Outside of that list:

  • Mississippi also legalized medical marijuana.

  • Washington DC decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms.

  • And Oregon passed an unprecedented decriminalization measure that now bans arrests for codeine, heroin, oxycodone and methamphetamine possession.

    Oregonians now caught with those drugs will face a $100 fine and a mandatory screening for addiction, aimed at diverting them into treatment.

    Individuals caught with larger amounts of drugs, furthermore, will face downgraded misdemeanor penalties instead of felony prosecution.

All these moves come four years after Massachusetts legalized marijuana back in 2016. Likewise, Oregon’s specific reforms to the criminal justice system closely follow a push by Boston-based congresswoman Ayanna Pressley for states to scale down structural criminalization of drug use and homelessness. 

“It is xenophobic and racist, and just tinkering at the edges with legislative reforms is not going to be enough,” Pressley said said of the legal system in November of last year. “We need to do something bold and transformative.”

The celebrations continue. 

That being said, some still wring their hands not at failed reform, but at progressive reluctance to embrace that reform prior to election day. 

Northeastern’s Leo Beletsky, who has criticized Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden for his moderate stances on drug policy and addiction, argued early Wednesday morning that the former vice president could have run away with the now neck and neck race for the White House by more strongly breaking with establishment drug policy norms. 

“That was the lesson from 2016,” he said. “That lesson was ignored.”


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