Drugs Won the Election

A truck drives past a sign supporting a ballot measure in Oregon to legalize the controlled, therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms.
A truck drives past a sign supporting a ballot measure in Oregon to legalize the controlled, therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms.
Photo: Andrew Selsky (AP)

With ballots for the U.S. 2020 presidential election still being counted in several states, it’s possible that we won’t know that outcome for quite some time. But one clear victor emerged in another fight: the drug legalization movement. In multiple cities and states, in both red and blue areas, people voted to legalize or decriminalize cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, and, in Oregon, all illicit drugs entirely.

New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana all passed ballot measures to legalize cannabis for recreational use; South Dakota passed a separate measure for the legalization of medical cannabis, as well. Several cities in Ohio passed an initiative to decriminalize cannabis possession, while Mississippi voters passed an initiative to legalize medical cannabis that was supported by activists, rather than a more restrictive program developed by state lawmakers.

In Washington D.C., voters backed a measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, a psychedelic drug that has started to receive attention as a promising treatment for depression and other mental health problems. Oregon meanwhile became the first state to pass a law that will decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs in small amounts—a law that will also redirect tax funds generated through cannabis legalization to expanding treatment services for substance use disorders.


Oregon also became the first in the country to establish the legalization of psilocybin-assisted therapy, a proposal that Gizmodo has previously reported on. The measure will pave the way for patients to receive psilocybin alongside other mental health care at licensed centers. (On Tuesday, a new small study published in JAMA Psychiatry added to the body of evidence suggesting that psilocybin, in combination with therapy, can significantly reduce symptoms in people struggling with chronic depression who haven’t responded to other treatments.)

What makes these legislative victories all the more impressive is how they superseded political lines in a country that is deeply partisan. Trump won both Montana and South Dakota, while the Republican governors of Arizona and South Dakota discouraged residents from voting for cannabis legalization, all to no avail. The Democratic Party has been more supportive of drug decriminalization in general, but the Biden campaign did not back the full-scale legalization of cannabis and had seemingly said nothing about psilocybin, making the results in several states somewhat of a rebuttal there, as well.

There are important questions remaining about the best and safest ways to implement the legalization of drugs like cannabis and psilocybin. But for now, these victories are the surest sign yet that the counterproductive and damaging “War on Drugs” is finally starting to wind down in America.


Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere

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no matter how 2020 turns out, I hope this election was a good wakeup call for the Dems to (1) hire more ex-Republicans to help with the negative campaigns that Dems don’t have the stomach to do themselves, and (2) do more to appeal to the id of the voter, like more legalized marijuana, etc.  Don’t disregard the “governing” and “make peoples lives better” parts but consider employing a “spoonful of sugar” technique as well.