The conservative wave of 2014 featured an unlikely, progressive undercurrent: In two states, plus the nation’s capital, Americans voted convincingly to pull the plug on marijuana prohibition. Even more striking were the results in California, where voters overwhelmingly passed one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, de-felonizing possession of hard drugs. One week later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession. It’s all part of the most significant story in American drug policy since the passage of the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol in 1933: The people of this country are leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs.
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor de Blasio announced that the city will start giving out tickets (and court summons) rather than arresting people for possession of 25 grams of marijuana and under. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)
November’s election results have teed up pot prohibition as a potent campaign issue for 2016. Notwithstanding the House GOP’s contested effort to preserve pot prohibition in D.C., the flowering of the marijuana-legalization movement is creating space for a more rational and humane approach to adjudicating users of harder drugs, both on the state level and federally. “The door is open to reconsidering all of our drug laws,” says Alison Holcomb, who led the pot-legalization push in Washington state in 2012, and has been tapped to direct the ACLU’s new campaign against mass incarceration.
On the federal stage, the Justice Department continues to provide what Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, calls “a discreet form of leadership” on state experiments in drug reform – giving tax-and-regulate marijuana laws broad latitude, and even declaring that Native American tribal governments can also experiment with marijuana law, opening a path for recreational pot on reservations in, potentially, dozens of states.