Drug Policy Reform Inched Forward in the Midterms: Here Are the Details

    Broadly as expected, Democrats flipped the House in the midterm elections, while Republicans strengthened their grip on the Senate. Many drug policy and related issues were at play—and while individual results were very mixed, the overall direction of movement leaned positive.

    “Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out.”

    Here are the highlights of results that bear on some of the issues closest to Filter:


    Ballot Initiatives

    Michigan voted to legalize marijuana; North Dakota said no.

    Michigan became the 10th US state—and the first in the Midwest—to legalize marijuana. Michigan’s Proposal 1 will legalize the recreational possession and use of marijuana for people over the age of 21, as well as excising a tax on marijuana sales. People in Michigan will be allowed to grow a certain amount of marijuana in their homes and the state will regulate and tax commercial marijuana sales.

    However, North Dakota voted no on Measure 3, which would have legalized the use, possession, sale and growth of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, though it had no regulatory framework for marijuana businesses. The measure would also have established an automatic expungement process for people with convictions related to a controlled substance that is subsequently legalized.


    Two states—Missouri and Utah—voted to legalize medical marijuana.

    Missouri voted yes on Amendment 2, one of three slightly different initiatives to legalize medical marijuana. Seth Ferranti recently reported for Filter that Amendment 2 looked like the preferred choice in the state. Voters said no to Amendment 3, the most restrictive of the measures, which would have instituted a 15 percent tax, and to Proposition C, which would have instituted a two percent tax. Amendment 2 institutes a a four percent tax, with the revenue dedicated to health care services for veterans.

    Utah’s Proposition 2 will legalize medical marijuana, though the vote may be largely symbolic since state legislators are planning to pass a different model for getting medical cannabis to Utah patients.


    Marijuana on the ballot elsewhere:

    In Wisconsin, an overwhelming majority of voters, in at least 14 of 16 counties with advisory marijuana referendums, sent a clear message to state officials that they favored legalizing adult use of marijuana.

    In Ohio, five out of six voting municipalities opted to decriminalize marijuana.


    Various states voted on laws about criminalization, especially as it pertains to drugs.

    In a major progressive step, Florida voted yes on Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to people convicted of felonies after they’ve completed their sentences. The vote will restore voting rights to many of the state’s 1.5 million people who have been disenfranchised post-sentence, a number which includes twenty-one percent of black people in Florida. As of 2016, according to the Sentencing Project, Florida’s disenfranchised population accounted for nearly half (48 percent) of the national total. 

    Florida also voted yes on Amendment 11, which repeals a law that forces the state to prosecute suspects of a crime under the law the person was originally charged, regardless if legislature has altered the law since then. (This could have ramifications if marijuana is legalized in Florida, among other implications).

    Florida also voted yes on Amendment 9, which banned offshore oil and gas drilling and the use of e-cigarettes in indoor workplaces. The odd amendment, which combined the two unrelated matters, passed with over 60 percent of the vote.

    Ohio voted no on Issue 1, which would have reduced penalties for obtaining, possessing, and using drugs, by classifying these law violations as misdemeanors rather than felonies.

    Colorado voted yes on Amendment A, which removes a section of the Colorado Constitution that allows for slavery and involuntary servitude as a “punishment for a crime.” The state will no longer be able to force people convicted of crimes to do unpaid labor.

    Louisiana voted yes on Amendment 2,  which undoes a part of the state’s Jim Crow history that allows juries to convict people for felonies without unanimity. This policy was a way to undermine the opinions of black jurors and to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana,” as rationalized by an 1898 Louisiana Constitutional Convention. Oregon is now the only state that allows split juries to convict people.

    Louisiana also voted yes on Amendment 1, which bans people convicted of felonies from seeking public office until five years after they complete their sentences, unless they are pardoned.


    Gubernatorial Candidates

    Some gubernatorial candidates who embraced drug policy reform triumphed. Gavin Newsom (California), Jared Polis (Colorado), J.B. Pritzer (Illinois), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico) all emerged victorious.

    Gavin Newsom, for example, has supported legalizing marijuana, reforming “three strikes” laws, keeping more young people out of adult court, and reclassifying some felony drug possession offenses to misdemeanors. He’s also a vocal opponent of the death penalty.

    Elsewhere, however, reform-minded Democratic candidates lost to their Republican opponents. In Florida, Andrew Gillum, who supported marijuana legalization and would have been Florida’s first black governor lost to Republican Ron DeSantis. 

    Georgia Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, who stated on Reddit that she supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, is projected to lose to Republican candidate Brian Kemp, though as of 7 am Wednesday morning she is refusing to concede, as all of the votes are not yet in. Kemp’s office has also been accused of voter suppression, particularly among black voters. On election day, Abrams tweeted that she intended to “decriminalize poverty and marijuana, end cash bail, and promote effective community policing to build trust and keep families safe.”

    Maryland’s Democratic candidate Ben Jealous lost to Republican Larry Hogan. Jealous had proposed to reduce Maryland’s prison population by 30 percent.


    House Candidates

    In Texas, Colin Allred, a supporter of marijuana reform, beat Pete Sessions, the most powerful marijuana reform opponent in the House of Representatives.

    But Minnesota’s Eighth House District Republican candidate Pete Stauber unseated a historically Democratic congressional seat. Stauber is against the legalization of any illicit drug, including marijuana, citing his former job as a police officer. My job as a police officer was to protect my citizens and get all drugs off our streets and out of the hands of our youngest and brightest, which includes marijuana,” he told CBS. He supports a southern border wall because it “is allowing illicit drugs, human trafficking and illegal immigrants into our country.”


    Senate Candidates

    In Montana, Matt Rosendale, a “Trump Conservative” as he calls himself, was narrowly beat by Democrat Jon Tester. Rosendale supports the construction of a souther border wall, the deportation of “criminals,” and the end to sanctuary cities. Additionally, he would have sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    In Florida, a recount is in progress to determine whether current governor Rick Scott or incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson won the race. Scott is notorious for his health care company’s defraudment of Medicare in the 1990s, a policy he implemented in 2011 that required drug testing of welfare recipients, and a 2011 executive order that ordered state employees undergo urinalysis drug tests. Nelson supports medical marijuana, especially for veterans, but opposes its recreational use.


    Attorney General Candidates

    Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat who has tangled with the Trump administration, beat out Republican challenger Craig Wolf, a 56-year-old former prosecutor and liquor industry lobbyist. Wolf advocated for new mandatory minimums and aimed to knock down a law that requires judges to consider defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail.

    Democratic candidate Phil Weiser claimed victory over Republican George Brauchler—a “tough-on-crime” career prosecutor who resisted transparency and pursued the death penalty with zeal—in the race for Colorado Attorney General.


    District Attorney Candidates

    Massachusetts’s Suffolk County District Attorney candidate Rachael Rollins became the first woman of color to serve as a DA in Massachusetts. She has announced on her campaign website that she would decline to prosecute a slew of criminal charges such as “minor in possession of alcohol,” “drug possession,” and “drug possession with intent to distribute.” She will be the first top prosecutor in America who has promised to decriminalize drug possession.

    Progressive candidate Andrea Harrington claimed the DA office in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Harrington has worked in public defense and civil litigation, without experience on the prosecution side. As DA, she aims to end the war on drugs, incarceration of people for non-violent offenses, and the school-to-prison pipeline, while also implementing bail reform.

    In Hennepin County, Minnesota, County Attorney Mike Freeman beat out Mark Haase, who publicly advocated for the legalization of cannabis and had said he would not prosecute marijuana charges.

    Orange County, California DA Tony Rackauckas—who has illegally used jailhouse informants to obtain confessions—appears to have lost to challenger Todd Spitzer.

    In Dallas, Texas Jon Creuzot won the DA race, running on a platform that committed to reducing incarceration by 15 to 20 percent by the end of his first term.

    Texas’s Fort Bend County voted Democrat Brian Middleton to be district attorney, making him the first lead black DA in the county and the first Democrat to hold the position in 26 years. Middleton is in favor of bail reform and pre-trial diversion programs.



    In North Carolina, voters ousted Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, who has served four terms. Under his leadership, black residents were subject to aggressive policing, and his office cooperated with ICE. Elsewhere in the state, six other counties unseated white sheriffs with black candidates. 

    In Florida, Chad Chronister—whose cooperation with ICE has drawn protests—has been re-elected as sheriff of Hillsborough County.


    Related news

    Idaho, Utah and Nebraska all voted to expand Medicaid.

    San Francisco approved Proposition C, a tax on big businesses to raise hundreds of millions to address homelessness. The tax was opposed by the City’s Chamber of Commerce and some heads of tech companies, including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

    Washington voters passed an initiative reforming the law on prosecuting police for illegal use of force.

    Nashville passed Amendment 1, which creates a police oversight board with subpoena power to investigate and make recommendations on police misconduct claims.

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