Drugs Won the U.S. Election

Drugs Won the U.S. Election
A truck drives past a sign supporting a ballot measure in Oregon to legalise the controlled, therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms. (Photo: Andrew Selsky, AP)

With ballots for the U.S. 2020 presidential election still being counted in several states, it’s possible that we won’t know that outcome for quite some time. But one clear victor emerged in another fight: the drug legalisation movement. In multiple cities and states, in both red and blue areas, people voted to legalise or decriminalise cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, and, in Oregon, all illicit drugs entirely.

New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana all passed ballot measures to legalise cannabis for recreational use; South Dakota passed a separate measure for the legalisation of medical cannabis, as well. Several cities in Ohio passed an initiative to decriminalise cannabis possession, while Mississippi voters passed an initiative to legalise medical cannabis that was supported by activists, rather than a more restrictive program developed by state lawmakers.

In Washington D.C., voters backed a measure to decriminalise psilocybin mushrooms, a psychedelic drug that has started to receive attention as a promising treatment for depression and other mental health problems. Oregon meanwhile became the first state to pass a law that will decriminalise the possession of all illicit drugs in small amounts — a law that will also redirect tax funds generated through cannabis legalisation to expanding treatment services for substance use disorders.

Oregon also became the first in the country to establish the legalisation of psilocybin-assisted therapy, a proposal that Gizmodo has previously reported on. The measure will pave the way for patients to receive psilocybin alongside other mental health care at licensed centres. (On Tuesday, a new small study published in JAMA Psychiatry added to the body of evidence suggesting that psilocybin, in combination with therapy, can significantly reduce symptoms in people struggling with chronic depression who haven’t responded to other treatments.)

What makes these legislative victories all the more impressive is how they superseded political lines in a country that is deeply partisan. Trump won both Montana and South Dakota, while the Republican governors of Arizona and South Dakota discouraged residents from voting for cannabis legalisation, all to no avail. The Democratic Party has been more supportive of drug decriminalisation in general, but the Biden campaign did not back the full-scale legalisation of cannabis and had seemingly said nothing about psilocybin, making the results in several states somewhat of a rebuttal there, as well.

There are important questions remaining about the best and safest ways to implement the legalisation of drugs like cannabis and psilocybin. But for now, these victories are the surest sign yet that the counterproductive and damaging “War on Drugs” is finally starting to wind down in America.