The November 2 elections brought troubling signs for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress and criminal justice reformers alike. But several city-level drug policy reform ballot initiatives did perform well. Cities endorsed cannabis and psychedelics measures, while a marijuana taxation and education-funding effort in Colorado was defeated. Here are the details.
In Ohio, a total of 15 cities had the chance to vote on decriminalizing cannabis. Of these, seven cities—Martins Ferry, Murray City, New Lexington, New Straitsville, Rayland, Tiltonsville and Yorkville—approved decriminalization. They will now join 22 other Ohio municipalities that previously passed cannabis decriminalization measures.
The language of the approved measures varied. Some specified they would lower “the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law,” while others reclassified low-level cannabis possession as a “minor misdemeanor drug abuse offense” with a fine of $0.00.
The victories are significant in part because at the same time, a separate initiative is collecting signatures to certify a statewide adult-use legalization ballot in 2022. Ohio voters rejected a 2015 effort to legalize cannabis, which was controversial even among cannabis advocates for its monopolistic business provisions.
Under full legalization, even the threat of a “minor misdemeanor” with a zero dollar fine—and its blemish on your criminal record—will be eliminated.
Meanwhile, the city of Detroit voted to decriminalize several categories of psychedelic drugs. With a proposal similar to those adopted by Denver and Detroit’s neighboring city of Ann Arbor, voters agreed to “decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults.” This refers to naturally-occurring psychedelics including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, mescaline and ibogaine.
Further, the ballot measure makes “the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority.” This basically means that Detroit police should avoid making arrests for possession of these drugs in almost all circumstances.
If someone is in possession of entheogens and other illegal substances like heroin—or they are in possession of a very large amount of entheogens and police suspect they are buying or selling it—police will still use their discretion on whether to make an arrest.
Because this language doesn’t offer full rights and protections for entheogen users, risks of criminalization remain. But as Denver showed when it decriminalized psilocybin, we should expect a significant overall decrease in arrests for these drugs.
And speaking of Denver, voters there and in the state of Colorado rejected ballot measures to increase taxes on cannabis.
The statewide measure, Prop 119, would have increased the state excise tax on cannabis products by 5 percent. Analysts predicted the state would raise an additional $138 million each year, to be used to provide cash stipends to middle- and low-income students to attend after-school, summer and tutoring programs. But opponents argued that it would be wrong to make cannabis more expensive for patients and others who use it, that it would work against cannabis social equity efforts, and that money for education should be found elsewhere. The state’s biggest teachers’ union also withdrew its support over implementation concerns.
A city-wide measure in Denver to raise the local tax on cannabis to fund pandemic safety research prompted similar debates, and also lost.
Finally, the city of Philadelphia voted in favor of a referendum supporting recreational cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania. The referendum is non-binding, but it’s an official statement from the state’s largest city calling on state lawmakers to legalize.
Governor Tom Wolf (D) supports legalization, but any effort will need support from the Republican majority in both chambers of the legislature. To date, lawmakers have introduced three different bills to legalize cannabis, some with bipartisan support, without getting them over the line.