Nov. 3 was a historic night for drug policy in America as cannabis ballot measures passed in all 5 states they were in play: Montana, Arizona, and New Jersey approved recreational use (medical use was already legal); Mississippi approved medical use, and South Dakota approved both.
But flying under the radar were the measures passed in Oregon and Washington, DC: Oregon voters made history by approving measures to decriminalize possession of all illegal drugs – e.g. cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl — and legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. And DC decriminalized a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin.
Not only that, the new drug measures got more votes than most candidates on the ballots including President Trump and President-elect Biden. For example, Arizona’s cannabis adult-use measure received 1,951,877 total votes compared to Biden’s 1,668,684 votes and Trump’s 1,657,250 – and this is just 4 years after the very same measure failed at the polls in AZ.
This means 35% of the US population now lives in a state that has legalized recreational cannabis – and there’s likely more to come. Beau Kilmer, director of Rand Corp.’s Drug Policy Research Center told Marketplace this week that as New Jersey goes, so goes neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, where discussions are afoot to follow suit. If that happens 45% of the population will live in legalized ‘recreational’ jurisdictions. And because of the overwhelming support for medical cannabis there’s currently only 6 states left where it’s fully illegal. Thus Kilmer’s succinct observation that we’ve reached a tipping point:
This is a moment for drug policy in the country.
All of which is a prelude to next month’s historic vote in the House on the MORE Act which, if passed, would – finally – federally decriminalize cannabis across the country. It’s looking good at least for next year as Joe Biden supports it and VP-elect Kamala Harris sponsored an earlier version of the bill in the Senate.
This matters for a much underdiscussed reason – Medical Research. The US still leads the world in science and technology but you wouldn’t it know from their paucity of work on the therapeutic properties of cannabis. That’s not for want of interest, it’s because the law handcuffs them from doing the work they want to do. As the leading science research journal in the US told us this year, because of the federal prohibition on cannabis there’s only one available source throughout the country: “the only marijuana that can be legally used for research in the United States is grown at the University of Mississippi, Oxford,” which results in a huge backlog of applicants trying to get their hands on it.
What’s more, that source of cannabis “doesn’t come close to representing the potency, quality, and diversity of what’s readily available in states with legal markets . . . [Thus] “[w]hen you’re talking about trying to develop cannabis into a medicine, [this] product is fundamentally inadequate.”
Federal prohibition also cripples US cannabis company research because they can’t access needed investment capital; for example, they can’t apply for federal loans or launch (federally regulated) IPOs. With the upshot that, according to one industry expert:
[We’re] losing out on research opportunities. There’s a lot of medical cannabis research being done in other countries in ways that are far more advanced than what we’re doing here. There are countries that are eating America’s lunch in that sense.