The clear victor on election night was neither President Donald Trump nor Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—it was drugs.
Voters in six states across the country backed more progressive drug laws, continuing a long march toward legalization. Among them are New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, who each voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and Mississippi, where voters passed a ballot measure that legalized cannabis for medical use.
But the standout of the night was Oregon, which became the first state to legalize small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
This is significant because Oregon has been hit hard by both the opioid and meth epidemics, with meth being the leading cause of drug-related deaths among Oregonians last year. The new drug initiative means that the state won’t try to treat this problem through the criminal justice system. As the Associated Press reports, the new law will permit people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs to avoid jail time and criminal trials by paying a $100 fine and attending an addiction recovery program.
Those programs will be provided by treatment centers funded from legalized marijuana revenues.
But while the changes across the different states are welcome—particularly for criminal justice reform advocates—state officials and local organizers are still figuring out how recent legalization efforts can directly benefit the people most impacted by the nation’s decades-long “War on Drugs”—a massive, multi-agency effort that led to disparate spikes in incarceration rates, particularly among Black, Latinx and low-income communities. In New Jersey, for instance, the recently passed ballot measure requires a commission to be put in place to study and propose how cannabis laws can be enacted so that the main benefactors include the very households and communities decimated by federal and state drug policies.
In total, the sweep of new drug laws mean that a third of Americans now live in states where the sale of recreational marijuana is legal, Market Watch reports.