A Roundup of Key Drug-policy Measures

A Roundup of Key Drug-policy Measures and Elections Nationwide

Marijuana and psychedelics are on the ballot at local and state elections this year across the U.S. It might be an off-year election, but advocates and lawmakers have been hard at work pushing to get everything from local cannabis decriminalization to psychedelics reform on their ballots this cycle.

As congressional lawmakers fight to end federal marijuana prohibition and advocates continue to build support for psychedelics reform, there are numerous proposals that voters in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania will decide on. And in Virginia, although cannabis technically isn’t on the ballot, the fate of the recently enacted legalization law is.

Here’s a rundown of the drug-policy measures and relevant elections: 


Colorado voters legalized marijuana for adults in 2012, and officials have consistently touted how cannabis tax revenue is supporting schools and other programs, but some education advocates see additional opportunities.

The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) program initiative would raise cannabis taxes statewide to fund programs designed to reduce the education gap for low-income students. If approved, the proposal would give low- and middle-income families a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer-learning activities. To pay for it, the state excise tax on adult-use cannabis products would be increased gradually from 15% to 20%.

Supporters say this policy is needed as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students. But some marijuana-industry stakeholders — and even the state’s largest teachers union — have expressed concerns, and some cannabis advocates have argued the hike in marijuana taxes would detract from social-equity efforts.

Meanwhile, Denver voters will decide on a local proposal to increase the city’s marijuana tax by 1.5% to fund pandemic-related research. The extra local funds raised by the Denver measure would be used to look into “advanced technologies to protect the public from the spread of pandemic pathogens, including at schools, businesses and hospitals” and “pandemic preparedness and recovery, including urban, economic and school planning.”


Since Denver made psilocybin possession the lowest police priority in 2019, cities across the U.S. have enacted policies to deprioritize enforcement of laws against certain psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca. Detroit could be next.

Activists successfully placed a measure on the city ballot that would decriminalize psychedelics. And a pair of state senators introduced a bill to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline. If voters in Michigan’s most populous city approve the local measure, it could make state lawmakers take a more serious look at broader reform.

Ohio municipalities

In Ohio, voters in more than a dozen municipalities will decide on local ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana. As it stands, 22 jurisdictions across the state have already adopted local statutes effectively decriminalizing cannabis possession, some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils.

Now, activists have succeeded in collecting enough signatures to qualify cannabis proposals for the November ballot to reduce the local punishment for low-level marijuana possession to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law,” which means no days in jail and no fines.

In McArthur, the police department seems less than enthused about the reform, posting and then deleting a news release that warned of a societal “downhill tumble” that could come if voters approve the measure.

Separately, Ohio activists have also recently been cleared to begin signature gathering for a 2022 statewide ballot initiative to legalize cannabis. Meanwhile, a pair of Republican lawmakers announced a new bill to legalize marijuana. Advocates hope that as voters make their voices heard by passing reform measures in a growing number of local jurisdictions, pressure will build for statewide legalization.


The Philadelphia City Council has placed a referendum on the local ballot this year urging the state to enact legalization, with the hope the local vote could further motivate the legislature to move ahead with legalization.

The measure stipulates that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

The local push comes amid a whirlwind of reform efforts taking place statewide in the legislature. A much-anticipated bipartisan Senate bill to legalize marijuana in the state that has been months in the making was formally introduced.

Separately, a Democratic representative announced his intent to file a reform bill that he’ll be working on with a Republican senator who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier. A third pair of state lawmakers also unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing.

While the Philadelphia referendum would not make any immediate changes to the law if approved by voters in the state’s most populous city, it would add pressure on state legislators to act on the growing number of bills that are being filed.


Virginia advocates are closely following the elections this year, as voters will decide who becomes the next governor and which party controls the state House of Delegates. While the legislature legalized adult-use cannabis earlier this year — and possession and limited home cultivation were made legal — the incoming governor and state legislators will play a key role in implementing the commercial cannabis market in the months to come.

Under the final deal agreed to by lawmakers last session, nearly all of the legal cannabis sales provisions of the law are subject to reenactment by the legislature in the 2022 session. Depending on who voters choose as governor and which party ends up controlling the legislature during the election, the new government could drastically roll back planned reforms or undo them completely.

As such, advocates are urging voters to get to the polls to elect politicians who will effectively support the cannabis legalization policy. While marijuana isn’t technically on the ballot — at one point the state Senate included language in a legalization bill that would have allowed voters to directly weigh in on the policy change with a referendum, though that didn’t make it into the final legislation — legalization’s fate is very much at stake, advocates say.

Get Lit.

The most consequential race on the marijuana front is the contest for governor. The advocacy group NORML has given the race’s Democratic candidate, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an A grade, noting his public statements calling for legalization. The Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, a private equity executive, got a D grade, which notes Youngkin supports only limited cannabis decriminalization — though his campaign has stressed he doesn’t plan to overturn legalization if elected.

The incoming governor will have the opportunity to veto or make amendments to any marijuana bills that reach his desk. A hostile governor could torpedo legalization completely, and it’s unlikely Democrats, even if they do maintain their current slim legislative majority, could muster the supermajority of votes needed to override any veto from Youngkin.

Other jurisdictions

As is the case in almost every election now, voters in a number of municipalities within states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana will decide on local measures concerning whether and how to allow or tax cannabis businesses.

Officials in several New York municipalities, for example, have moved to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries and/or on-site consumption areas by the Dec. 31 deadline laid out in the state’s legalization law enacted earlier this year. Voters in at least nine cities, towns and villages will have the opportunity to weigh in directly on the issue.

Looking ahead to 2022, activists are also hard at work trying to get drug policy reform on the ballot. Oklahoma activists have filed a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program. 

Nebraska marijuana activists have begun petitioning for a pair of complementary initiatives to legalize medical cannabis they hope to place on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Ohio activists have cleared a final hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. Florida activists filed a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for adult use, and New Hampshire lawmakers are pursuing a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Lawmakers in Maryland are also crafting legislation to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the 2022 ballot after the House speaker called for the move. And Missouri voters may see multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s ballot next year, with a new group filing an adult-use legalization proposal that could compete with separate reform measures already in the works.

This piece is part of a content-sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.


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