SF could institute fine for smoking in apartments, including cannabis

A new proposal heading to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would impose a $1,000 fine on smoking in apartment buildings with three or more units.

The ban would include smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis and vaping, and would extend to balconies and patios.

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee introduced the bill as one of his last pieces of legislation, which will be voted on on Dec. 1.

S.F. already prohibits smoking in common areas like the building lobby or stairwells and some apartment leases have smoking bans built into the lease.

With cannabis smoking banned in homes, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman raised concerns about where those smokers could smoke safely. While an amendment by Yee would exempt cannabis smoking for those with a medical need, Mandelman didn’t think that would be enough since many people no longer seek medical exceptions with marijuana legalized.

According to the Examiner, Yee referenced a mother that called his office for help because her baby was being exposed to secondhand smoke and feared the health impacts.

“I was alerted to and reminded that San Francisco has fallen behind many cities in enacting policies to protect our most vulnerable from secondhand smoke by a mother with an infant,” Yee said.

The Department of Public Health would be responsible for enforcing the rule, beginning with a warning and education about smoking cessation. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

US Congress expected to vote on decriminalizing marijuana at federal level in December

WASHINGTON (WZTV) — The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote in December on legislation that would decriminalize marijuana.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD-5) issued an update on the status of House bills last week, stating he expects a vote on the bill to come next month.

The vote will be taken on the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019,” otherwise known as the MORE Act of 2019. The bill is sponsored by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) in the House.

Under the bill, marijuana would be removed from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and criminal penalties for those who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana would be eliminated.

In addition, the bill would impose a 5% tax on cannabis products to be deposited in a trust fund which would support various programs to communities impacted by the war on drugs. Among other actions, it would also expunge convictions related to federal cannabis offenses.

The House version has 118 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen and Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY-3).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also created a message form for those who support the bill to contact their local representative. The organization says passage of the bill would help end racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates.

Several states voted to enact marijuana reform during the November 3rd election, passing laws which ranged from allowing recreational use to legalizing medical use.


It has been said that once the issue of marijuana legalization resides consistently near 65 percent in the public opinion polls, Congress will have no choice but to give it some consideration. Well, that time has come.

Not only has federal legalization managed to garner somewhere between 60%-65% favorability over the past few years, but the support has now grown considerably. The latest Gallup poll shows that nearly 70% of the population now believes the United States should legalize the leaf nationwide. It’s a signal to the boys and girls on Capitol Hill that now is the time to get serious about legal weed. But will they listen?

The country still doesn’t know which party is going to control Congress in 2021. As of now, the Democrats and Republicans are still evenly split — 48-48 — and election officials are still counting votes. Cannabis advocates hope that the Dems, who already have the majority in the House of Representatives, can snatch the two Senate seats needed in Georgia, allowing them to enter the next legislative session with all of the power on Capitol Hill. But it’s just as likely that the Republicans will maintain control of the upper chamber, giving us yet another Congress in gridlock.

If the Democrats take the Senate, however, the chances of a marijuana reform bill getting passed are pretty good, but if the Republicans snag it, not so much. Still, Congress is there to represent the people. It is our voice in the nation’s capital. So, if the national public opinion surveys show that most Americans want legal weed, federal lawmakers have to at least discuss it, right?

They should, that’s for sure.

But if you’ve ever had the sneaking suspicion that the federal government doesn’t really care what the people want, much less enough to change the law, well, you’d be right. Sadly, Congress doesn’t have any interest in public opinion, according to a study from Princeton and Northwestern University. In fact, the American standpoint is never even considered.

Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that roughly 90% of the population has zero effect on policy change. Absolutely none. “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” the professors wrote.

And no, this is not just the federal government’s typical response to drugs. This blatant disregard comes into play with matters like the national debt, education, and the economy. So what chance does marijuana really have?

Federal lawmakers only consider one thing when hashing out national policy, and that is money, according to professors Gilens and Page. The study shows that it’s actually the hundreds of politically active companies dropping billions of dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts that are calling the shots in D.C.

Considering that our elected officials spend more than half their time in office fundraising for their next campaign, appeasing their donors is of the utmost importance. The cannabis industry understands this and plays this political game itself. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t come with the same ferocity as other business sectors.

The cannabis trade reportedly spent $11 million on lobbying efforts in 2019, which is only a drop in the bucket when compared to the legal alcohol industry’s annual $30 million. The weed business needs to grease more Republican wheels if it wants to see nationwide legalization in the next decade. That means playing better politics and helping more of the right people get or stay elected. Marijuana is already on the Congressional radar, but someone has to give them a reason to care.

And the will of the American people isn’t it.

So don’t expect Congress, a political menagerie with a measly 18% approval rating, to get to work on federal marijuana legalization simply because the American people told Gallup that they want legal weed. Rest assured, Congress couldn’t care less about those numbers. Depending on how the Senate votes shake out, it could be difficult enough to get the suits to agree on items like decriminalization and other plans that the Biden Administration has promised.

We may see some progress this year in terms of marijuana, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to come.

Federal Government To Blame For More States Legalizing Marijuana, Arkansas Governor Says

The governor of Arkansas says the federal government’s lax approach to marijuana is to blame for the growing number of states that are enacting legalization.

“Whenever there’s not a clear federal position on legalization of marijuana, legalization of drugs, if there’s not a clear federal position, then there’s going to be a continued erosion and movement toward legalization of marijuana at the state level,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) told The Washington Post’s Bob Costa.

While President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded formal Obama-era guidance that directed federal prosecutors to generally not interfere with state cannabis laws, the current administration has nonetheless refrained from launching any kind of full-scale crackdown on local policies or people complying with them.

“As long as the federal government is saying, ‘We’re just going to turn a blind eye to whatever the states say,’ then it’s going to continue that pressure—because there’s so many dollars that go with that, that they’re going to continue to have those initiatives,” Hutchinson said in the interview last week. “There are going to be huge advertising dollars that go with it, and if the federal government does not take a clear position, they’ll probably continue to pass.”

Arkansas voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.

Hutchinson, who served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under President George W. Bush, noted in the Post interview that Arkansas activists tried to place a marijuana legalization measure on the state’s ballot this year. They were not able to collect enough signatures to qualify amid the coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing measures, however.

“They were not successful, but we know that they will come back,” Hutchinson said.

During the Bush administration, Hutchinson oversaw DEA raids of medical cannabis dispensaries in California.

Voters in five more states approved ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana in some form this month, with Oregon and Washington, D.C. voters passing broader drug policy reform measures.

One-Year Tax Break For Cannabis Industry

SAN FRANCISCO — The cannabis industry will receive a one-year tax break from San Francisco, as reported by The San Francisco Examiner on Thursday, November 5.

In November 2018, San Francisco voters approved a tax on cannabis. This new tax break will further delay its enforcement. Rafael Mandelman, who serves on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, proposed the tax break, saying “in light of our efforts to support small businesses, this is not a time to be imposing a new tax on small businesses.”

He argues “many of these businesses have been paying rent on their empty locations for years and need time to grow their businesses and recoup some of these costs.”

Mandelman’s proposal was approved Wednesday, November 4 by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. On Tuesday, November 9, the entire board will be voting on it. If passed, the cannabis industry will receive a one-year tax break.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult, according to AnnaRae Grabstein, the NorCal Cannabis Company’s chief compliance officer. She says “we are not in an economic position to take on additional taxes that other businesses are not subject to in the midst of the pandemic.” A rise in taxes, Grabstein says, would “cause us to close or force us to relocate” outside San Francisco.

Taxes will be imposed on the cannabis industry starting January 1, 2021 unless the full board approves Mandelman’s proposal on November 9. Under his proposal, the cannabis industry will pay taxes after a year, starting January 1, 2022.

Election Day was a green party for SF cannabis dispensaries

When things get stressful, people tend to turn to pot.

States turning red, blue, striped? It seems like an occasion tailor-made for cannabis, but until recently, it’s been difficult to say just how big a slice of the populace is prone to seek THC in tense, large-scale news moments.

That’s because, in the past, if one admitted to relying on weed to get them through an evening with Wolf Blitzer, they usually did so privately. Handcuffed by the law, the illegality of cannabis meant discussion of its use was relegated to the shadows. Given California’s own legal recreational market started in 2018, that makes this year’s election the first presidential campaign in which buying pot to cope was a viable option for all San Franciscans.

And, according to representatives from several of the city’s most popular dispensaries, traffic and sales did indeed increase as result of 2020’s marquee political affair. Eliot Dobris, spokesperson for the Apothecarium — which has San Francisco locations in the Marina, the Castro, and SoMa — told SFGATE that things were actually busiest prior to Election Day itself. “We definitely saw more people ordering delivery and coming into our dispensaries in the week before the election,” Dobris said. “Also, the average order size was up, with people stocking up especially on edibles and flowers.” In addition, Dobris noted that preroll packs and gummies were specifically moving swiftly in the lead-up to Tuesday.

Drakari Donaldson, co-founder and CEO for Nob Hill’s California Street Cannabis, noted that the short span of days separating Halloween from Election Day this year also meant a bit of a combined surge in terms of sales.“We’ve definitely seen a jump in sales through Halloween weekend and earlier this week,” Donaldson said. “As I listened in on my staff and their conversations with customers, I also overheard a lot of customers talk about stocking up before the election.”

The same was true for the Apothecarium, where Dobris noted that the trend explained a less robust turnout on Tuesday proper. “Not surprisingly,” Dobris reasoned, “we saw a small dip in traffic on Election Day itself, since so many people had already stocked up.” In addition to the added business that came from voters looking to counteract anticipated stress from watching the returns roll in on Tuesday (and beyond), several dispensaries also celebrated the occasion by offering special deals and promotions.

At California Street Cannabis, a 20% off discount was offered to all shoppers with an “I Voted” sticker. A similar promotion was also made available to patrons of Barbary Coast, which has locations in SoMa and the Inner Sunset.“We offered several promos and discounts for people with ‘I Voted!’ stickers,” confirmed Barbary Coast co-founder and CEO Jesse Henry, “and we definitely saw more people than we normally would on a regular Tuesday. The excitement of the day was definitely in the air.”

San Francisco cannabis market expands slowly but surely via social equity program

Get in-depth analysis from MJBizCon’s Passholder Days about how 2020 local elections in California might impact the marijuana industry as well as financial insights into recent hurdles affecting MJ operators in the state. It’s all available to you on demand.

San Francisco is the birthplace of the modern medical marijuana industry.

But the city’s cannabis industry has been fairly stagnant the past two decades, with regulators approving only a few dozen storefront dispensaries to sell MMJ.

Over the past few years, however, there’s been a slow but steady march to significantly expand the industry, potentially by scores – or even hundreds – of new licensed businesses.

That’s because, after California legalized adult-use marijuana in 2016, San Francisco leaders revamped the rules governing the city’s industry and adopted a new system that will issue business licenses both for so-called “legacy” retailers that have been operational for years as well as social equity applicants and incubators.

That eventually led to the opening on Oct. 9 of the newly remodeled Stiizy Union Square shop, which is owned and run by Cindy de la Vega, a Latina and qualified social equity applicant who partnered with the Shryne Group.

De la Vega’s is one of 11 new social equity permits that have been issued to date by the San Francisco Office of Cannabis. And the agency has a long way to go in processing applications.

The office, which has received 380 cannabis business applications as of October, will be issuing permits on a rolling basis for eight different license types:

Delivery retail.
Retail storefront.
Retail with consumption lounge.
Testing lab.

As of October, an agency spokesman said, 139 applications had been processed, and 24 were in the final phase.

One company, FGW Haight, is so close to the finish line that the company announced it had already been purchased – by Oakland-based Harborside for $2.1 million – before it even received its city or state permits. That shop is slated to open sometime in the first half of 2021.

That deal suggests there’s considerable interest in the San Francisco cannabis market from major companies, particularly because there’s room for the industry to grow.

It also means the current 79 legal retailers in the city – 39 stores and 40 delivery companies – will face new competition.

The main question is: How many companies will eventually open and when, since it takes most new applicants years to become licensed?

“The industry is transforming, but it’s transforming at a snail’s pace,” said California consultant Menaka Mahajan, who has advised several marijuana applicants in San Francisco.

“The people I tend to talk to … are in it to win it. They’re hanging on, and they’re very determined to make it through this process.”

Hurdle after hurdle

According to a step-by-step guide from the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, companies must complete at least eight procedures before they can obtain a city permit. Each step can take weeks to months.

Among the more expensive requirements – particularly for those hoping to win a retail license – is having a location ready to go and holding on to that location during the entire permitting process.

That alone can become a disqualifying hurdle, because many social equity applicants can’t afford hundreds of thousands of dollars – or even millions – to rent a commercial space for that long, let alone pay for required build-outs.

“If you’re completely dialed, and you know exactly what you’re doing and you’ve got a friend in every (city) department, two years is your minimum timeline. That’s your best-case scenario,” said Johnny Delaplane, the president of the San Francisco Cannabis Retailers Alliance.

“I think for most people it’s going to be three to four years just to get from applying to opening their doors for business.”

Delaplane, who also is a partner in FGW Haight, said that shop has taken about 2½ years to get where it’s at today – and that shop is still months from opening.

Audie Vergara, head of corporate communications for the Shryne Group, said it took his company roughly 3½ years to get the new Union Square shop open.

That included several months of construction delays because of the coronavirus.

But the morning the doors opened, Vergara said, “we had a line around the corner, which really surprised us,” because the business didn’t expect as much of a crowd amid ongoing coronavirus concerns.

Moreover, the Shryne Group has plans for two more social equity-licensed shops in San Francisco, including another that’s slated to open before Christmas.

The social equity partner is professional boxer Karim Mayfield, a San Francisco native.

Vergara said he’s not sure how many other companies have similar plans, but he reckons it’s a decent number.

“I don’t think San Francisco is over yet, in terms of action and activity,” Vergara said. “If we haven’t stopped our activities, we can’t be the only ones.”

Uncertain changes

It’s unclear how many of the 380 applications will make it to the finish line, particularly among retailers.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is weighing a proposal – introduced in February – to cease accepting new retail marijuana license applications.

The city also already limits corporate interests in retail operations to a maximum of four, meaning operators such as Harborside and the Shryne Group wouldn’t be able to buy up all of the shops, even if they wanted to.

It’s also still unclear how many of the 380 remain viable.

Many likely already dropped their plans or have been unable to afford to wait for the city to process their paperwork, Delaplane said.

“I’m sure (the cost of waiting has) narrowed the pool. I don’t know how much,” he said.

“But there are certainly projects you hear about being abandoned because people can’t afford to pay the rent anymore, or their initial financing partner dropped out.

“So that’s going to have an impact on how many dispensaries there’s going to be in San Francisco, ultimately, is who has the staying power.”

Social equity applicant Alexis Bronson is an example.

He filed six business license applications and tried lining up financing with multiple big-name companies – including multistate operators MedMen Enterprises and Harvest Health & Recreation, and even marijuana publisher High Times – before they all pulled out and forced him to find another investor.

Bronson, who’s been trying to get a license for about 2½ years, estimated he’s roughly $250,000 shy of the capital he needs to open his shop.

Even if he were to land an investor tomorrow, he said, it would still take him months to get his store open.

But he’s not giving up.

“As long as the application is on file, I may come out of this,” Bronson said. “You just have to keep fighting somehow.”

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com

Yahoo Finance 2020 elections: 5 states pass legal marijuana measures, potentially growing industry by $9 billion

The once widely controversial issue of marijuana legalization has been decidedly eclipsed by this year’s divisive presidential race, though voters in five states broadly adopted legalization measures Tuesday. Recreational or medical use, or both, were on the ballot in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

Marijuana legalization in the additional U.S. states is estimated to grow the industry’s size by $9 billion, according to cannabis market firm New Frontier Data.

Arizona — Proposition 207

Voters said “yes” to Proposition 207 in Arizona supporting legalized recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older, along with a 16% excise tax on the drug. Currently, the state permits only medical use, and outlaws recreational use and possession.

Mississippi — Ballot Measure 1, Initiative 65 & Initiative 65A

Mississippi voters asked to weigh in on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes said yes to the initiative and chose one of two medical marijuana legalization options that offered patients broader access to the drug. Recreational use will remain illegal in the state and was not up for consideration.

As a first step, under Ballot Measure 1, voters were asked to decide whether to legalize medical use. Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A were additional issues pending the outcome of medical legalization. Voters chose Initiative 65 which means Mississippi will allow use for 20 medical conditions, as well as cap quantities that patients can possess at 2.5 ounces. A vote for 65A would have meant more limited medical use.

Montana — I-190 & Constitutional Initiative 118

Adult recreational use was legalized under Montana’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or I-190, and Constitutional Initiative 118. The measures will legalize purchase and use for those 21 and older. Possession of the drug would be capped at 1 ounce, or less than 8 grams of concentrate.

New Jersey — Question 1

New Jersey voters legalized recreational use, saying “yes” to Question 1, after the vote failed in the state legislature, which means the state’s constitution will be amended to permit those who are 21 and older to use and possess marijuana, as well as to permit marijuana to be cultivated, processed, and sold in New Jersey.

South Dakota — Constitutional Amendment A & Measure 26

Voters in South Dakota supported Constitutional Amendment A to amend the state’s constitution to allow purchase and possession and distribution of up to one ounce of the drug, for those 21 years old and older.

Measure 26 also passed, requiring the state to form a medical marijuana program for use, possession, and home cultivation of plants for people with qualifying medical conditions.

The state legislature is required to draft and pass new laws to establish a state medical marijuana program by no later than April 1, 2021.

CCSF Expands Menu with Cannabis Culinary Courses

When it comes to learning about cannabis, the options for a higher education have long been few and far between.

That’s why, earlier this year, City College of San Francisco made headlines when it announced details for the nation’s first Cannabis Associate of Arts Degree. Designed as a trio of three-unit classes, the program will reportedly explore the plant through the auspices of anthropology, sociology, and psychology in an effort overseen by the College’s Behavioral Sciences Department.

Now those offerings are set to expand further in the form of a newly-announced, industry-specific program from CCSF in which students can earn a “badge” in one of four areas of focus: manufacturing, public education, social equity, and business and finance.

Currently open for enrollment, these courses — like one devoted to California’s official cannabis track-and-trace program, METRC — are designed to provide an easy way for prospective professionals, especially those participating in equity programs, to learn about the industry.

Additionally, City College has also announced a forthcoming series of cannabis courses to be taught by notable culinary professionals.

Beginning this spring, non-credit classes from a trio of chefs will be offered via remote instruction as part of City College’s extension program. Accessible to students across the U.S., instruction will focus not only on the practicalities of cooking with cannabis but will also explore the cultural significance and backstory of select dishes as well.

“We don’t want to decontextualize cannabis,” Jennifer Dawgert-Carlin, chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences, tells SF Weekly. “We’ve looked at some other training programs out there and they’ll train you on some of the nuts and bolts but they don’t look at cannabis as a social phenomenon. For us, we want to situate that training within the context of social issues. The idea is not to orphan cannabis from the world that it comes from or the one that it exists within today.”

Chef Mennlay Aggrey, author of “The Art of Weed Butter,” sounded palpably energized when discussing her plans to teach a course incorporating the intersectionality of cannabis and cuisine.

“I’m really excited by this opportunity,” Aggrey says. “I love that I get to nerd out a little bit more when it comes to the historical context, which is just where my brain likes to travel when it comes to this subject.”

Her class, which she’s tentatively titled “From West Africa to Mexico: Botanical and Culinary Ties to the Diaspora,” will walk students through the process of infusing cannabis into fats and butters before moving onto a recipe for an elevated version of jollof rice. By having her pupils work with cannabis in their own kitchens, Aggrey hopes to offer an enticing experience that’s also educational.

With those goals in mind, what better way to a student’s brain than through their stomach?

“On an academic level,” Aggrey adds, “I also just think it makes what we’re talking about way more impactful and easier to digest — no pun intended.”

Alongside Aggrey’s class, there will also be courses taught by James Beard-nominee Chef Miguel Trinidad and one from self-described “restaurant rat” Chef Amanda Jackson.

Made in the mold of the line cooks immortalized by Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” Jackson is a Humboldt transplant by way of South Georgia. Speaking with SF Weekly, she shared that, in her line of her work, cannabis is a staple of the gig.

“I love being a line cook,” Jackson explains, “and culturally, weed has just always been a part of that. Like, I’ve never worked in a kitchen where there wasn’t weed.”

For her City College course, Chef Jackson will be offering instruction on infusing food from the Black American diaspora with cannabis. Namechecking regional foodstuffs like Washington D.C.’s mumbo sauce or the corn-flour hybrid hot tamales of Mississippi, Jackson stressed that it’s both the commonalities and specific influences behind these dishes that fascinate her.

“We’re not necessarily visibly at the forefront of weed,” says Jackson, “but there are a lot of Black chefs out there right now, so a lot of my class will very specifically deal with the intersection of weed and Black food, which is literally taking place right now.”

As City College continues to grow their offerings, catering to both budding professionals as well as the more casually curious, the institution is quickly establishing itself as a premiere destination for cannabis academia of all stripes.

For Jackson, the whole thing is borderline surreal.

“I’m from a small town in South Georgia,” she says, “so this entire conversation is pretty insane. It’s wild, man. If you had told me any of this would be happening five years ago, I’d be like, ‘Am I high right now?’ But here we are and I’m so excited. More than anything, I think this is an opportunity to make the truth accessible.”

Election Day was a major rejection of the war on drugs

In every state where marijuana legalization or another drug policy reform was on the ballot, it won.

We still don’t know with certainty who will be the next president of the United States. But this year’s election results have given us a lot more clarity on one thing: American voters, even conservative ones, are ready to reel back the US’s war on drugs.

In every state where a ballot measure asked Americans to reconsider the drug war, voters sided with reformers. In Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, voters legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. In Mississippi and South Dakota (separate from the full legalization measure), voters legalized medical marijuana.

In Oregon, voters decriminalized — but not legalized — all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Also in Oregon, voters legalized the use of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug found in magic mushrooms, for supervised therapeutic uses.

In Washington, DC, voters in effect decriminalized psychedelic plants, following the lead of several other cities.

With its vote, Oregon became the first state in the US in modern times to decriminalize all drugs. And marijuana is now legalized in 15 states and DC, although DC still doesn’t allow sales.
A map of marijuana legalization laws in the US.

All of the measures won with relatively strong support, by 5 or more percentage points, in an election season that could otherwise come down to the smallest of margins — literally tenths of a percent — in the presidential and congressional races. Montana, Mississippi, and South Dakota are especially peculiar, handing big wins to President Donald Trump on Tuesday but also to marijuana legalization supporters.

But this maybe isn’t that surprising: Over the past decade, polls have shown marijuana legalization, for example, is increasingly popular. In several polls, it gets majority support even among Republican voters, despite their greater levels of resistance to drug policy reform in general.

Together, these ballot measures’ successes amount to a significant repudiation of America’s war on drugs. US drug policy has for decades been built on the principle that drugs should be illegal, with the criminal justice system acting as a deterrent to use and addiction. Voters clearly want to move away from that.

It’s telling, though, that 13 of the 15 states that have legalized marijuana so far have been forced to do it by ballot initiative. For whatever reason, elected lawmakers and legislatures remain scared to touch this issue. So a patchwork of ballot measures has moved the US in an unexpected direction. That trend continued on Election Day 2020.
This is a big rejection of the war on drugs

Collectively, the year’s ballot measures amount to a major shift in US drug policy.

In the four states that legalized marijuana on Election Day, the policy will generally work as it has in other states that have legalized marijuana so far. Adults 21 and older will be able to possess and, eventually, legally buy the drug. State agencies will regulate production and sales, and local jurisdictions may be able to ban marijuana retailers within their borders. There will be taxes on marijuana. Depending on the state, home-growing marijuana might be allowed.

That’s a big shift from where marijuana was before in these states, where possession and sales could still be punished with up to jail or prison time. It’s a particularly radical change for South Dakota, which, unlike many other states that legalize recreational use, had not yet legalized medical marijuana before Tuesday.

In Oregon, possession of small amounts of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin, will no longer be punished with jail or prison time. Instead, those caught with the drugs will get a choice to pay a $100 fine or do a “completed health assessment” in an addiction recovery center.

Unlike legalization, decriminalization does not mean sales will be allowed. In general, decriminalization means the removal of criminal penalties — particularly prison time — for the possession and use of a drug, but not the legalization of sales. So people wouldn’t get arrested for having small amounts of heroin or cocaine on them, but don’t expect stores legally selling either substance to pop up.

Oregon had already legalized marijuana for recreational and medical uses, so the initiative mostly won’t change anything there, with one exception: On top of directing the savings from the initiative (due to, say, less incarceration) to more addiction treatment, the measure will also redirect some marijuana tax revenues to treatment. The measure’s proponents say that will all add up to at least $100 million more funding for addiction treatment a year — which would effectively quadruple how much the state spends on treatment outside of Medicaid and the criminal justice system.

Separately, Oregon approved a measure that will allow the use of a psychedelic drug under the supervision of trained facilitators at “psilocybin service centers.” This approach actually has growing evidence behind it — to the point that psychedelic drugs are currently working through clinical trials approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Based on the studies, the guided hallucinogenic trips may help people overcome serious mental health issues like addiction, end-of-life anxiety, and PTSD, although experts say we still need more evidence.

In milder moves, DC decriminalized a host of psychedelic plants — following the lead of Denver and other cities. And Mississippi and South Dakota legalized medical pot to allow the use and purchase of marijuana for patients with certain qualifying conditions.

Crucially, federal drug policy won’t change as a result of these measures, with marijuana and other drugs remaining illegal at the federal level. But the federal government has, since President Barack Obama’s second term, generally taken a hands-off approach to allowing states to change their drug policies, on marijuana in particular, with little to no federal interference. It remains to be seen how that will play out with the more sweeping measures in Oregon.

If nothing else, though, the approval of the various kinds of measures shows that Americans are increasingly fed up with the war on drugs.
Politicians are scared to touch stronger drug policy reform

Over the past decade and a half, many states have reduced their criminal penalties for drug offenses. Democratic lawmakers in particular have increasingly spoken favorably of ending the war on drugs, particularly given its disproportionate negative effect on communities of color.

But when it comes to the more aggressive measures that would actually end the drug war, like marijuana legalization and broader drug decriminalization, politicians have played it cautiously. Polls show a solid majority of Americans (around two-thirds) and especially high numbers of Democrats (more than three-fourths) back marijuana legalization. Yet the Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, is still opposed to full legalization, arguing instead for a milder measure in marijuana decriminalization at the federal level, to remove prison time but not allow sales.

It’s under this framework that activists, surmising they had more voter support than politicians were willing to admit, have pushed forward with ballot measures. In 2012, the approach made Colorado and Washington the first two states to legalize marijuana, with 11 states following since (and two other states enacting legalization through their legislatures).

The efforts have now been successful in more conservative states, like Montana and South Dakota. But activists have also started to push beyond the realm of marijuana legalization, as seen in the drug decriminalization and medical psychedelic initiatives in Oregon.

The approach, however, is limited in a way that defies partisan lines. It’s simply much easier to get a legally binding question on the ballot changing drug policy in, say, Montana than it is in New York. That’s why the order of legalization doesn’t really follow the levels of support you’d expect based on voters’ party affiliations or a state’s more liberal attitudes.

Still, the results show quite strongly that voters are eager to reel back America’s war on drugs. A remaining question is if politicians will catch up with the clear message voters sent on Election Day, even as voters gave more muddied signals in many other areas.