Yes, the U.S. elections are primarily about who should sit in the Oval Office for the next four years, but your vote did much more than that. As we wait for the vote count (we know it takes so damn long), let's celebrate one of the big wins from this election. Marijuana is being legalized and decriminalized in four states.
The fight to decriminalize drugs moved further across the nation this Tuesday when voters in New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona decisively passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana. It could also be passed in Mississippi, results pending. Meanwhile, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs. Cannabis is now legal for medical use across three dozen states and recreational use will be allowed in 15.
Before you Google how to roll a joint, take a moment to realize just how important this move is – no, not just for stoners. As New Jersey and other state officials begin the lengthy process of establishing rules relating to regulating legal cannabis, the issue is just as much one of economic benefits as it is about racial equity.
In the United States, Black residents are 3.64 times more likely than their white neighbors to be charged with marijuana possession, according to a 2018 report by the American Civil Liberties Union. And the harsh prison sentences Black and brown people face as a result has impacted these communities beyond measure. To take it one step further, with fewer drug-related justifications for the police to make stops, there would be less opportunity for violent police enforcement in minority neighborhoods.
Obviously, legalizing marijuana would also unlock the economic potential for extra tax revenue and new jobs. In fact, The New York Times reports that legal cannabis could generate New Jersey up to $126 million a year once the market is established.
As these new green states figure out the legislative ins and outs of recreational marijuana use, could we suggest following in Oregon's footsteps? The newly approved Oregon measure makes possession of small amounts of hard drugs a violation no longer punishable by jail time – think of it like a traffic ticket. The law also funds drug addiction treatment from marijuana sales taxes. If marijuana were treated similarly in New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona this could be a progressive step to mend the justice system's racial divide.
In a positive start, the election already signals America could finally be ready to stop criminalizing people for marijuana and instead realize the economic and social benefits of having marijuana possession and sales regulated.