Oregon Decriminalizes Small Amounts of Heroin and Cocaine; Four States Legalize Marijuana – The New York Times

Recreational Cannabis Legalisation

[Cheers erupt on New York City streets after President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is declared.]

OAKLAND, Calif. — The march to decriminalize drugs moved further across the nation on Tuesday despite continued federal prohibition.

Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs. And in New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona, voters decisively passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana. Cannabis is now legal across a large bloc of states in the West — from Washington down to the Mexican border — and well beyond.

Cannabis was also on the ballot in Mississippi. If all of the marijuana measures pass, marijuana will be legal for medical use in three dozen states and recreational use will be allowed in 15.

The Oregon measure makes possession of small amounts of what have long been considered harder drugs a violation, similar to a traffic ticket, and no longer punishable by jail time. The law also funds drug addiction treatment from marijuana sales taxes.

“This is incredible,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance. “This is like taking a sledgehammer to the cornerstone of the drug war.”

Possession of larger amounts could result in misdemeanor charges, and some cases that rise to what is considered a commercial level could still be charged as felonies.

Ms. Frederique said passage of the measure showed that voters were eager for a new approach on drug policy to handle it as a health issue and prioritize treatment. She said she expected other states to follow suit, mentioning efforts in states such as California, Vermont and Washington.

Separately, Oregon voters also legalized psilocybin, known as magic mushrooms, for people age 21 and older. Proponents said the move would allow the drug to be used to treat depression, anxiety and other conditions.

Even in a year when the number of citizen initiatives in states across the country was sharply down from the last presidential election, the diverse slate of measures offered a chance to gauge the mood of the nation.

In California voters decided to maintain a ban on affirmative action. The ban, passed in 1996, applies mainly to public employment, education and government contracts. It prohibits state and local governments from granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

In Florida, where the two presidential candidates were within a few points of each other, voters decisively approved a pro-labor amendment to the Constitution that will raise the minimum wage incrementally to $15 an hour by 2026.

Florida becomes the eighth state to enact a minimum wage of $15, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but it is the first state that Donald J. Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election to do so. The District of Columbia has also enacted a $15 minimum wage.

Florida’s measure, known as Amendment 2, earned a place on Tuesday’s ballot last December and needed at least 60 percent of the vote to pass. With 99 percent of ballots counted, the measure had slightly more than 61 percent in favor.

Under the measure, the state minimum wage will rise to $10 an hour next September from the current rate of $8.56, and then will increase by another $1 each September through 2026. After that, annual increases would be tied to inflation.

A study by the Florida Policy Institute, a research organization backing the increase, found that the higher wage would directly benefit 2.5 million workers in the state.

The amendment was supported by unions and the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and was opposed by business organizations representing construction companies, citrus farmers, hotels and restaurants.

In a defeat for labor advocates, however, California voters passed Proposition 22, a measure promoted by gig-economy companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash that allows them to treat their drivers as independent contractors, rather than as employees entitled to a variety of protections under state labor law.

In Illinois, voters defeated an amendment championed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that would have increased tax revenue by replacing the state’s flat income tax of 4.95 percent with graduated taxes that would range from 4.75 percent to 7.99 percent. The defeat could lead to a downgrading of the state’s credit ratings to junk status.

In Louisiana, a measure supported by two anti-abortion Democrats, Gov. John Bel Edwards and State Senator Katrina Jackson, passed comfortably. Amendment 1 adds these words to the State Constitution: “Nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion, or require the funding of abortion.”

But in Colorado, voters soundly defeated a proposal to ban abortions after 22 weeks of gestation.

Two measures addressed historical legacies. In Mississippi, voters approved a new state flag with red, yellow and blue stripes, a magnolia flower and the words “In God We Trust.” The state’s previous flag, which dated to 1894 and contained a Confederate battle cross, was decommissioned by lawmakers in June. And in the Northeast, voters agreed to change the official name of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to simply Rhode Island. Supporters of the change said the reference to plantations resonated with the painful legacy of slavery.

Those in favor of overhauling criminal justice were victorious on two measures in California. Voters approved Proposition 17, which will restore the right to vote for felons on parole, and they rejected Proposition 20, which would have rolled back earlier measures that allow early parole consideration for people convicted of certain felonies. Both measures were supported by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Voters in California also rejected a law that would have abolished cash bail and replaced it with computer-driven risk assessment of a suspect. Opponents of the law included California chapters of the N.A.A.C.P., who argued that the algorithms that will decide who is allowed pretrial freedom may work against people of color and those from poorer areas.

There were 38 statewide citizen initiatives being decided across the country on Tuesday, about half as many as in 2016, when there were 72. Experts attribute the decline to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic, which has made gathering signatures more difficult. When all measures are accounted for, including those placed on the ballot by legislatures, there were a total of 124 statewide ballot initiatives this year, down from 154 four years ago.

But even in a year with fewer initiatives California had many substantive ones. In a measure closely watched by the technology industry, voters agreed to establish a stand-alone state privacy watchdog, the first in the nation to do so.

The measure, Proposition 24, is intended to strengthen and clarify the California Consumer Privacy Act, a sweeping new law that took effect this year and gives people in the state the right to see, delete and stop the sale of the personal information that companies have compiled about them. Once the new agency is set up, it will be in charge of enforcing the consumer privacy law.

Mike Baker, Noam Scheiber and Natasha Singer contributed reporting.