US Election 2020: Medicalisation, Decriminalisation and Legalisation

by Katya Kowalski


Last night, the United States voted on several initiatives for drug reform. Results hold overwhelming amounts of positive news, spanning from cannabis to psilocybin therapy. This is a pivotal and historic step toward ending the war on drugs.

In Arizona 59.85% voted in favour of legalising cannabis. As a result of 50 years of hyper-incarceration Arizona now has the 5th highest incarceration rate in the US. It is hoped this change in law will play a significant role in reducing jail and prison populations. Moreover, the state is also set to dismiss historical cannabis convictions. It’s predicted that Arizona’s legal cannabis market will generate around $200 to $300 million per year.  

In Montana 56.84% voted for the legalisation of cannabis, and 58% voted in favour of setting 21 as the minimum age to buy cannabis. The University of Montana has estimated the cannabis market will generate $236 million by 2026.

In New Jersey 66.97% voted in favour of legalising cannabis. This a long awaited victory for cannabis reform in a state which has previously failed to pass legislation initiatives. The state will now establish a legal framework and institutions responsible for regulating cultivation, distribution, sale and consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes. This year unemployment rose from 3.7% to 15.3% in New Jersey, as a result of Covid-19. The Senate President for NJ has estimated the legal cannabis industry will create around 43,000 jobs, which will greatly support post-covid economic recovery. 

In South Dakota, where legalisation of medical cannabis had previously failed to gain support, 53.41% voted to legalise cannabis, and 69.21% voted to legalise medical cannabis. It’s estimated the new industry will generate around $10.7 million by 2022. 

In Mississippi 74.1% voted in favour of legalising medical cannabis, and 76.25% voted for a medical cannabis program. Under these new initiatives The Mississippi Department of Health will be the governing body for regulation and distribution of medical cannabis; and patients can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis. 

A milestone within drug policy reform has been achieved in Oregon this election period; where 58.57% voted for decriminalising drugs. Oregon is the first American state to decriminalise simple possession of drugs, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. This is a significant moment for drug use to no longer be viewed as a criminal justice issue.

Moreover, 55.89% voted in favour of legalising psilocybin therapy; undoubtedly a major step towards the introduction of this plant based medicine into clinical settings. The legalisation of psilocybin therapy is an incredible step for psychiatry in the midst of a mental health crisis. Evidence highlights psilocybin’s ability to treat depression and addiction, with profound long-term improvements. As researchers have previously struggled to conduct these studies due to legal barriers, this new law will undoubtedly open the door to meaningful psychedelic research.

In Washington DC 76.95% voted in favor of decriminalising psychedelic plants. Whilst the cultivation, distribution and possession of these plants will still remain illegal at both a state and federal level, psychedelic plants will remain a low priority for law enforcement in the state of DC. This change in law will undoubtedly benefit those who are using psychedelics as an alternative medicine. Greater tolerance for personal use of psychedelics is likely to drive more research in this field and continue to destigmatise these drugs by seeing their potential benefits.

These election results show positive progress for drug reform, moving away from criminalising individuals  and toward recognising the medical potential cannabis and psilocybin possess. 

This article was written by Katya Kowalski, Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Volteface. Tweets @KowalskiKatya

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