Marijuana Wins In Recent Election

By Kelly Burch 11/10/17

Governors elected in Virginia and New Jersey are in favor of loosening restrictions around the drug. 

People voting in some polling booths at a voting station.

Marijuana legalization wasn’t officially on the ballot in any state during Tuesday’s election, but voters in Virginia and New Jersey both elected governors who want to make it easier to access the drug, while other municipalities chose to loosen restrictions on cannabis.

New Jersey voters elected Democrat Phil Murphy, who made legalizing marijuana one of the cornerstones of his campaign. 

"The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana," he said during his primary night victory speech, according to Forbes. "And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”

The Democratically-controlled state senate is expected to bring up marijuana legalization early next year. 

"We are going to have a new governor in January 2018," Senate President Stephen Sweeney said earlier this year. "As soon as the governor gets situated we are all here and we intend to move quickly on it."

It will be a drastic change for the state, where outgoing governor Chris Christie has blocked attempts to legalize cannabis for year. 

In Virginia, voters elected current lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, who is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession.

"We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana," he wrote, according to Forbes. "African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement—money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”

Northam has written to the Virginia State Crime Commission as part of its review of the effects of marijuana decriminalization. 

"Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement—enough to open up another 13,000 pre-K spots for children," he wrote. "African Americans are nearly three times as likely to get arrested for simple possession of marijuana, and sentencing guidelines that include jail time can all too often begin a dangerous cycle of recidivism.”

Marijuana advocates also had other, smaller wins during Tuesday’s election. Seventy-seven percent of voters in the college town of Athens, Ohio eliminated fines and court costs for possessing or growing up to 200 grams of marijuana. Voters in Wayne County, Michigan, which covers Detroit, allowed cannabis businesses to operate in more areas and to stay open longer. Michigan is expected to have a marijuana legalization bill on the 2018 ballot. 

In Philadelphia, voters chose Lawrence Krasner for District Attorney. Krasner has been outspoken about the benefits of marijuana reform. 

"One of the things we see in other jurisdictions is that, where marijuana is readily available, there’s a 25% reduction in opiate/opioid overdose deaths," Krasner said this year. "So if Philadelphia is looking at 500 opiate/opioid overdose deaths a year, a district attorney, by choosing not to enforce against marijuana usage, can potentially save 125 lives. That’s what a district attorney should exercise his or her discretion to do."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.