When historians look back at the movement to end the war on drugs, they might very well point to the 2014 election as the moment when it all got real.
With marijuana legalization measures passing in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., and with groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passing in California and New Jersey, there's no longer any denying that drug policy reform is a mainstream -- and quite urgent -- political demand.
These wins will boost efforts already underway in states such as California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and Arizona to end marijuana prohibition in 2016, as well as efforts in Congress and around the country to scale back the disastrous policies of mass incarceration.
And speaking of 2016, yesterday's results now mean that Presidential candidates and other prominent candidates for public office will have no choice but to take positions on these issues, which could prove to be another tipping point in national politics. While some major politicians have yet to evolve on marijuana legalization and drug policy reform, that's likely to change in the coming months and years, as drug war proponents start to pay a heftier price at the polls for their cluelessness.
These resounding victories are even more notable for having happened in a midterm election year, as younger voters turned out in smaller numbers than 2012 and Democrats suffered at the polls. They're another confirmation of drug policy reform's broad support across the political spectrum -- it's no longer just a liberal cause but now a conservative and bipartisan one as well. Here are some of last night's highlights:
- Oregon voters elected to make their state the third in the nation to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana. Like the historic laws adopted in Colorado and neighboring Washington two years ago, this new law will legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older and create a statewide system to regulate production and sales.
This election has solidified drug policy reform's place as a mainstream political issue, as voters across the country have accelerated the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider drug war.
It's always an uphill battle to win drug policy reform initiatives in a year like this, when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes these victories all the sweeter.
While public opinion has shifted dramatically over the last decade in favor of reforming marijuana laws and dismantling the egregious excesses of the drug war, we can't expect our country's entrenched prison-industrial complex to just go away quietly.
It's up to us -- as people who care about science, compassion, health and human rights -- to ensure that real change continues as quickly as possible.
Jag Davies is the publications manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.