As voters went to the polls yesterday across the United States, they affirmed their opposition to the War on Drugs in a variety of momentous manifestations. Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington DC approved legislation to legalise recreational marijuana, voters in California and New Jersey approved legislation to reform punitive sentencing for existing drug laws, and residents of Guam – a US territory in the Pacific Ocean – voted to legalise medical marijuana.
In a groundbreaking move towards ending prohibition, residents of the capital city of the United States have voted to legalise recreational marijuana. In the landslide victory for drug policy reformists, over two thirds of voters approved the measure – entitled Initiative 71 – while just 30% of voters opposed it. Although the eventual implementation of the ballot initiative will not create a regulated or taxed market for marijuana, the measure permits adults to possess up to two ounces of the drug, as well as a maximum cultivation allowance of six plants per person.
There was further success for the reformist movement in the US yesterday. On the opposite side of the country, in the west coast state of Oregon, 54% of voters approved marijuana legalisation. While in Alaska, a state traditionally governed by the far-right Republican Party, 52% of voters approved the ballot measure calling for an end to prohibition and the introduction of legal recreational marijuana.
Meanwhile, in California, voters approved a proposition to change the manner by which drug possession is ‘classed’ in law. California, alike the rest of the US, retains an antiquated legal system by which crimes must either be defined as ‘felonies’ or ‘misdemeanours’, depending on their perceived severity. California voters approved a decision to move the offense of drug possession from the former to the latter group – preventing harsh punishments and long incarceration periods for simple possession.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, proclaimed the success of these initiatives, and indicated their significance when contrasted with the success of the Republican Party in the US’ midterm elections. “These victories are even more notable for having happened in a year when Democrats were trounced at the polls. Reform of marijuana and criminal justice policies is no longer just a liberal cause but a conservative and bipartisan one as well. On these issues at least, the nation is at last coming to its senses.”
The popularity of drug policy reform is becoming an increasingly important subject for US voters. The end of marijuana prohibition in the nation’s capital is an unprecedented progressive step towards ending the War on Drugs. This move is likely to provide inspiration to reformist campaigners around the US and around the world who are campaigning for fairer drug laws in their own jurisdictions.
For individuals with a historical knowledge of the War on Drugs, there is a bittersweet irony about Washington DC’s legalisation; decisions made by government officials in the US capital last century are the primary reason why marijuana, as well as other drugs, are illegal around the world today. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, the US government began introducing prohibitionist laws with the primary intention of subjugating ethnic minorities; Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, famously argued for prohibition by stating that marijuana “makes darkies think they’re as good as white men… [and] causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes”. To protect the domestic War on Drugs, the US government colluded with the United Nations in the institution of prohibition into international law. This became known as the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), and as implementation of prohibition spread around the world, the rest became history.
Washington DC’s reversal of marijuana prohibition is symbolic. The birthplace of the international drug war has overturned one of prohibition’s core features, and it has set a precedent for the world. From liberals to conservatives to libertarians, people are realising that the War on Drugs is simply not working.
Below is an interactive map showing the legal status of marijuana across the United States. Click on any state for more information.
US Marijuana Legality