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Oregon Votes to Decriminalize Drugs, Four States Approve Recreational Marijuana

November 04, 2020

Oregon has voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs, and voters in New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona appear to have approved recreational use of marijuana, while Mississippi voters have approved a measure to legalize marijuana for medical use.

Oregon, which also passed a separate measure to legalize psilocybin in a therapeutic setting on Tuesday, becomes the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize small amounts of hard drugs, reclassifying possession of such substances as a civil violation punishable by a small fine with no jail time, effective Feb. 1, 2021.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a not-for-profit that advocates for policies that reduce the role of criminalization in regulation of drug use, welcomed the Oregon results.

“This victory shows the tide is changing and that people understand the necessity of providing people access to health services, rather than criminal consequences,” a spokesperson told Addiction Professional in an email. “It also demonstrates that all drug decriminalization is, in fact, politically viable in the United States, and so we expect a cascade of other efforts around the country centering people and public health over criminalization.”

The spokesperson noted similar efforts underway in California, Vermont and Washington, and said that the Drug Policy Alliance has released a framework for all drug decriminalization that it expects to be introduced as a standalone bill in Congress in the coming months.

Marijuana measures pass

Four states have passed recreational marijuana measures:

New Jersey has approved possession, sale and recreational use for adults over the age of 21, effective Jan. 1, 2021, however, state legislators must still pass legislation to decriminalize marijuana and establish regulations on sales and an allowable amount for individuals to possess.

South Dakota voters approved both medical and recreational marijuana use. Adults at least 21 years of age will be able to possess 1 ounce, or up to 3 ounces if prescribed by a physician. The South Dakota measures are slated to go into effect on July 1, 2021.

Montana voters approved two marijuana-related bills: one that allows for possession of up to 1 ounce by adults over 21 starting Jan. 1, 2021, and a second that creates a 20% tax and allows individual counties to opt out of approving dispensaries.

Arizona, which previously had approved medical use of marijuana, will allow its dispensaries to sell to adults over the age of 21. The bill approved by Arizona voters this week creates a licensing system for sales and allow individuals to grow limited quantities at home.

Kevin Sabet, PhD, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a not-for-profit advocacy group comprised of professionals in behavioral health, public health and policy who oppose “the creation and commercialization of another Big Tobacco-like industry that profits from addiction,” noted in a statement emailed to AP that the passage of the laws was not a surprise, given the significant push the measures received from companies that stand to benefit from having more states that allow recreational usage.

With results of the presidential election and several Congressional races unsettled, Sabet said: “While it is still too early to speculate on federal elections, we hope to work closely with the incoming administration and the new Congress to ensure public health and safety are considered prior to any legislation that would benefit the addiction-for-profit marijuana industry. We plan on continuing to work to educate elected officials as to the differences between legalization and decriminalization, as well as informing them on the myriad harms that have resulted in states that have commercialized marijuana.”

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