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Here Are the Major Drug Reform Initiatives Looming on the Ballot

English: Discount Medical Marijuana cannabis shop at 970 Lincoln Street, Denver, Colorado. Date: 19 February 2011 Source: Own work Author: User:O'Dea

With signature-gathering deadlines for drug reform initiatives now having passed nearly everywhere, the picture of where voters will have a chance to vote on them in November becomes clearer—although not yet finalized because state officials are still counting petitions in some cases. Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in two states and could also be put to vote in two additional states; and seven (four of them confirmed, three still in the running to be voted on) medical marijuana and groundbreaking initiatives on psychedelic policy and drug decriminalization will also go before voters.

In a handful of cases, statewide initiative campaigns for drug reform had qualified to be on November ballots before the coronavirus reared its head, but most campaigns had to struggle to find ways to get signatures in the midst of lockdowns in many states across the country. The virus proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed during this period. It also helped end a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

But in some other states, organizers managed to overcome such obstacles and have—as of this writing—either already qualified for the ballot or have handed in enough raw signatures to suggest that they well could qualify once state officials get their counting done.

Here’s where things stand at this juncture.

Drug Reform Initiatives That Have Already Qualified for the Ballot

Mississippi—Medical Marijuana: Ballot Initiative 65 qualified for the November 3 ballot before the pandemic hit. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

New Jersey—Marijuana Legalization: A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana was already on the ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana for personal, non-medical use by persons 21 years and older under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission, with sales subject to the state’s sales tax. This is not a citizens’ initiative—the state doesn’t have those—but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn’t manage to come to an agreement on a legalization bill in 2019, the state’s elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December 2019 that refers the question to the state’s voters.

Oregon—Drug Decriminalization: For the first time, drug decriminalization will go before voters after the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) qualified for the November ballot. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of most drugs for personal, non-commercial use, and seeks to channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

Oregon—Therapeutic Psilocybin: Using an online signature-gathering strategy after the pandemic lockdowns took effect, the campaign behind Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to be used for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator, qualified for the November ballot in early July.

South Dakota—Marijuana Legalization: With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PACConstitutional Amendment A qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to three plants by people 21 years and older, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

South Dakota—Medical Marijuana: Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010. Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions to possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants or as prescribed by a physician, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

Drug Reform Initiatives That Could Still Qualify for the Ballot

Arizona—Marijuana Legalization: Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state’s office on July 1. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

Idaho—Medical Marijuana: The Idaho Cannabis Coalition had given up the ghost in the face of the coronavirus back in March, but its medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected boost and could still make the ballot after federal court decisions around electronic signature-gathering for an unrelated initiative opened the door for a potential revival. Now, the group has asked the state to allow them to collect signatures electronically. The state’s response has been dismissive and the campaign threatened to sue in July, but that hasn’t happened yet. They would still need some 55,057 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Montana—Marijuana Legalization: New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative that “legalizes the possession and use of limited amounts of marijuana for adults over the age of 21,” and the CI-118 constitutional amendment that seeks to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, turned in more than 52,000 raw signatures for the statutory initiative (it needs 25,000 valid voter signatures) and 80,000 signatures for the amendment (it needs 51,000 valid voter signatures) on June 19. Organizers claimed in mid-July that county-level data showed they had qualified, but it’s not quite official yet.

Nebraska—Medical Marijuana: Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state’s proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw signatures on July 2. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5 percent of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

Washington, D.C.—Natural Entheogens: Decriminalize Nature D.C., the folks behind Initiative 81, which would make natural psychedelics law enforcement’s lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures on July 6, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. D.C. officials will make it official in 30 days.

Come November 3, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization could continue to expand across the country, while we could also break new ground on drug decriminalization and psychedelics. Let’s get out and vote. As if you needed to be told that this year.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit StopTheDrugWar.org, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

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