Thanks to the Internet, the Drug War Lost in 2020
The internet can be an incredibly frustrating space, with anyone and everyone posting whatever opinion pops into their mind, for all to see and engage with — take President Donald Trump, for example. But it has also given us access to endless amounts of information, and connected humans in a way that was never thought possible even just a few decades earlier. The 2020 election was undoubtedly impacted by the internet — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This election proved that, thanks to the internet, the tragic tenure of the drug war is finally nearing its end.
Eight states plus the District of Columbia (DC) voted on drug reform measures to legalize marijuana, and decriminalize drugs this year, and all of them were successful. This demonstrates just how much the nation's opinions are changing on the once extremely divisive topic.
Oregon passed Measure 110, the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” to establish addiction recovery centers around the state, and increase treatment and harm reduction services. Measure 109 on Oregon’s ballot also passed to legalize medicinal psilocybin (the psychoactive component of “magic mushrooms”) to help heal those with mental health disorders.
As of July, 2020, over 5,000 of Oregon’s prison inmates were sentenced for drugs. The measures are not retroactive, but now that the law has changed, the legislature could move to release inmates for drug convictions in a future session.
DC’s Initiative 81 the “Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act” passed, and will functionally decriminalize psychedelic plants and mushrooms.
Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized recreational marijuana for adults. South Dakota and Mississippi passed measures to legalize medicinal marijauna. This is certainly indicative of nationwide public support for legal marijauana, which PEW shows has the support of two thirds of Americans.
The fact that these issues were on the ballot rather than being discussed by a state legislature is that much more telling: A group of passionate people had to come together and mobilize, fundraise, petition, and campaign for these causes to sway the popular vote of the general public. This is a far more burdensome — and in some ways, democratic — process than trying to get a legislator to sponsor a bill and carry it to success by convincing his or her colleagues with the help of a handful of advocates and lobbyists.
Convincing the hundreds of thousands of public voters to put the measure on the ballot, and then vote “yes” is much more time consuming and costly, and it requires far more citizen engagement than the legislative route. All this was made possible, even in a worldwide pandemic, through the internet.
Drug reform measures like this may have once been easily quashed by government anti-drug propaganda that was prevalent first with marijuana in the 1920’s onward, then under Nixon’s declaration of the “war on drugs,” to Reagan’s “just say no” initiative. But now, the government doesn’t have the upper hand on the spread of information: Through the utilization of the internet, the public does. And slowly but surely, the American people are changing their mind on drug policy, including legalization of the substances themselves, and de-stigmatization of those who use drugs, and even those who become addicted.
Part of the reason for this is because through the internet, drug policy has begun to be shaped in the form of humanization. Addiction and drug use is certainly still stigmatized in American society, but not nearly to the degree it once was when government officials like Harry Ansligner, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claimed most marijuana smokers are “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers . . . marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes.”
Now, it’s widely understood that many people from all different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities use drugs for a variety of purposes, and it’s not worth the hysteria the government once pushed for. And for those that do struggle with addiction, we can now show the world that most of these people are not an evil breed trying to get your kids hooked on drugs. They are struggling humans who need help and who deserve empathy. This understanding is exactly what led to initiatives like Oregon’s and DC’s.
This nation still has a long way to go in legalizing recreational marijuana, and finding the legitimate medicinal uses for plants — like peyote and psilocybin mushrooms — that for years were stigmatized to the point of serious criminality. But this election showed progress and promise. As a nation, we’re beginning to understand that throwing people behind bars for merely possessing these substances is a massive waste. And as information continues to be readily accessible by the public, legalization trends will only continue.
That's really a win for us all.
Molly Davis is a policy analyst at Libertas Institute and an opportunity Fellow for Young Voices.