It feels almost alien to say this but… good things actually happened after Tuesday’s election! The people directly dealt major blows to the so-called war on drugs by supporting ballot measures that loosened, decriminalized, and even legalized a wider range of substances than ever before. Hell yeah!
Oregon made history by legalizing psilocybin for medicinal usage, and for decriminalizing personal possession of all illicit drugs. Montana, Arizona, and New Jersey ushered in recreational cannabis laws, while Mississippi voted in a medical marijuana program, and South Dakota became the first-ever state to approve both at once. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. “deprioritized” policing of all entheogenic (read: fun!) plants, meaning law enforcement resources can no longer be deployed against people who use or possess psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, iboga, or mescaline-containing cacti.
We spoke to experts about what all of these new policies should look like in practice and what’s on the horizon for the drug policy of the future and they were—again, feels surreal to say this—optimistic.
“Across the board, we're definitely seeing more compassionate drug policy and more common sense drug policies,” Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told VICE. “What we know, without a doubt, is that criminalization is far more harmful to people than drugs could ever be.”
Here are all the answers to the drug policy questions you no longer need to be (as) afraid to Google on your work computer.
So… can I legally do/carry meth in Oregon now, or what? How about cocaine and heroin?
Short answer: No. Long answer courtesy of Sutton: No, but thanks to Oregon’s Measure 110, you won’t face criminal charges if you use or possess "personal use” quantities of these substances. Those quantities are:
- Heroin: One gram or less
- Cocaine: Two grams or less
- MDMA/ecstasy: Less than one gram, or five pills
- Methamphetamine: Two grams or less
- LSD: Less than 40 user units
- Psilocybin: Less than 12 grams
- Methadone: Less than 40 user units
- Oxycodone: Less than 40 pills, tablets, or capsules
“Decriminalization is definitely not the same thing as legalization,” Sutton said. Instead, people caught with the drugs listed above, in those relatively small quantities, will get to choose between paying a $100 fine or doing a health assessment at a state-sponsored addiction recovery center, where they can choose to begin a treatment plan if they want to change the way they use substances.
“We wanted to make sure that nobody was punished for drugs, but we also wanted to make sure that they have access to health services, if they want them,” Sutton said.
Ismail L. Ali, policy and advocacy counsel for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), said that while drugs like coke, heroin, and meth have made headlines, he’s pleased to see MDMA and LSD, which have the highest arrest numbers for any psychedelic drug, decriminalized for the first time, too. “It’s actually quite a big deal, even if you’re just talking about psychedelics,” he told VICE.
Hell yeah. What’s going on with shrooms in D.C.?
Ali told VICE that the situation in D.C. is a little more complicated than it’s been portrayed so far, but that’s not a bad thing. Basically, shrooms and all the other entheogenic fplants that fall under the umbrella of the Decriminalize Nature movement will now be the lowest priority for law enforcement.
Basically, cops shouldn’t arrest users or people who grow, transport, or possess personal quantities of natural DMT source ayahuasca (Joe Rogan must be psyched!), cacti used to make peyote, or mushrooms containing psilocybin, and prosecutors shouldn’t press charges against anyone “caught” with these substances.
D.C. also stands apart from the crowd, according to Ali, because of the way it implemented this change. “Especially for comparing it to the resolutions that passed in Santa Cruz, Oakland, Denver, etc, those were all resolutions that were passed at the city council level,” he said. “This is the first time a resolution like this was put before the entire votership of a city.”
As a result, we saw the entire city say yes to drugs, not just a progressive city council.
Sick. What do I do if I come into contact with a cop who doesn’t respect the new drug laws?
This one’s a bummer. Ali said the best thing you can do if you come into contact with law enforcement officials who aren’t quite with the program is to be cool, stay quiet and ask to speak to an attorney.
“Although the only outcome that's supposed to happen [in Oregon] is a $100 fine, which is very different from an arrest, that may not stop a rogue cop from harassing someone,” he said. “But ultimately, the criminality is determined by the prosecution, so theoretically in a worst case scenario if someone does get arrested or taken on something that's drug-related, the prosecution would drop the charges related to activities that are covered under the new resolution.”
Sutton agreed. “That's the great thing about having these measures pass,” he said. “The laws changed, and just as much as people have to respect the laws, the people that are enforcing the laws have to respect them as well.”
Word. Well, what’s going to happen to people in these states who are incarcerated on drug charges right now?
Oregon’s broad decriminalization measure did not include provisions regarding people who have been imprisoned for drug charges, so as of now, they’ll remain where they are.
Drug policy reform advocates at organizations like DPA and MAPS are, however, working on cannabis industry equity programs and pushing criminal record expungements for people criminalized in the war on drugs. “We are going to make sure that we are holding legislators to the fire and holding them accountable to make sure that we get additional legislation that will remove those kinds of charges,” Sutton said.
Sutton also said that while record expungement and similar reforms are still in the works, decriminalization is already a big win for some of the people most impacted by the criminal justice system. “We're in a moment in time where we're reckoning with police violence, and drug possession is what is creating a lot of those interactions,” Sutton said. “Drug possession remains the most arrested offense in the United States. So, if we're looking for a way to reform policing in the United States, decriminalizing drugs is honestly the biggest thing that we can do.”
Damn, OK. What does all of this mean for federally legal weed, and for drug laws in other states?
Not as much as we’d like it to. “Federal prohibition and state prohibition operate at quite different levels,” Ali said. “Especially with these changes, we're talking about voter initiatives, where it's the people, the citizens themselves voting on something. That is very different than having congressional representatives support something in the legislature, and in Congress.”
Thanks to the “representatives” who don’t actually seem to represent what the masses want in terms of decriminalization and legalization of weed and beyond (see: both presidential candidates, for starters!), it might be an uphill battle. Another obstacle? The moves towards reparations and expungement mentioned above.
“As we reform our marijuana laws, we have to make sure that we start righting the wrongs of prohibition, and that we find ways to get back to those communities in terms of the ability for them to participate in the new legal marijuana economy,” Sutton said. “If we weren't insisting so much on those kinds of provisions, Republicans would probably pass it through. But that's not acceptable. It's not acceptable that rich white men entrepreneurs would be benefiting the legal economy, while we still have people that are suffering from the consequences of doing stuff that's now legal.”
But according to Sutton, that’s not cause for despair.
“For all the states that have legalized marijuana, there's only been two that have done it through the legislative process, Vermont and Illinois, and the rest have all taken place at the ballot box,” he said. “It really starts to make legislators look a little tone-deaf.”
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