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Drugs on the Ballot: 2022

Ever since California voters legalized medical marijuana via ballot initiative in 1996, many advocates in the U.S. have embraced direct democracy as a means to bypass reluctant legislatures to advance marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reforms. At present, marijuana is legal for medical use in 37 states. Of those, 18 states passed medical marijuana at the ballot box, including California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Maine, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Michigan, Arizona, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Utah and South Dakota. The other 19 passed medical marijuana via the legislature. Adult-use marijuana is legal for adult recreational use in 19 states. Of those, voters approved adult-use marijuana via ballot initiative in 12 states, including Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Massachusetts, Nevada, California, Maine, Michigan, Arizona, Montana and New Jersey. The remaining seven states passed adult-use marijuana via legislation. The 2022 ballot could see adult-use marijuana legalized in five additional states: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. This page details the cannabis-related ballot initiatives this November and provides a timeline of efforts to enact and implement drug policy reforms via the ballot box since 1996.

Cannabis Regulation 2.0

As the number of states with legalized medical or adult-use marijuana continues to expand, there is a pressing need for legal and regulatory frameworks to develop in a balanced and fair manner, building on experiences that help reveal best practices. This page includes policy resources from DEPC's own Distinguished Cannabis Policy Practitioners in Residence, as well as other experts in cannabis regulation, who have sought to provide informed guidance regarding cannabis regulatory regimes. The following papers, event recordings, and interviews are aimed at providing practical guidance for addressing some of the most important challenges facing the cannabis industry and those seeking to soundly regulate them—on topics including social equity, interstate commerce, banking access, monopoly prevention, and more.

Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020

The “tough on crime” era of the 1980s and 1990s ushered in a growing reliance on prisons, the ratcheting up of sentence lengths, and a broader expansion of the criminal justice system. Life sentences, historically rarely imposed, became increasingly commonplace in the 1980s through the 2000s, contributing to the ballooning imprisoned population. While there are growing concerns about the increased use of life sentences in the United States, there has been limited empirical study of these sentences. This report seeks to fill this gap with a particular focus on the federal sentencing system and the imposition of life sentences for drug offenses. Specifically, the current report documents federal life sentences imposed for drug trafficking over the last three decades, taking a closer look at the defendant and case-specific characteristics, and providing a descriptive account of the factors that are associated with those sentenced to life in prison in federal courts.

A Comparison of Marijuana Reform Proposals in Ohio

Following the path blazed by Colorado and Washington via 2012 ballot initiatives, nearly 20 states over the last decade have legalized marijuana for recreational adult-use. The Ohio General Assembly enacted medical marijuana reform legislation in 2016 after a controversial recreational reform initiative had been rejected by Ohio voters in 2015. Now, adult-use reform is again being actively considered in the Buckeye state with three new proposals—two legislative and one initiative—to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio, and an additional proposal being introduced that would reform the existing medical marijuana program. The pages and documents below compare the medical marijuana reform bill and the three recreational reform proposals to each other as well as to provisions of the existing Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

Five Decades of Marijuana Decriminalization

The topic of drug decriminalization has gained considerable attention in the United States after Oregon voted in November 2020 to decriminalize all drugs in that state. While we consider the possible impacts of broader drug decriminalization efforts, it is useful to look back at the five decades of marijuana decriminalization for lessons on effects and implementation. DEPC collected all state and local statutes on marijuana decriminalization and created an interactive map to illustrate the patchwork nature of the U.S. approach. The corresponding dataset is available for download.

Drug Sentencing Reform in Ohio

DEPC has gathered a variety of resources to aid in understanding the complex evolution of criminal justice and drug sentencing reforms in Ohio. The page includes a visualization of Ohio incarceration rates, a timeline of Ohio reforms since 2010, commentaries and writings, event recordings, research, and more.

Drug Reforms on the 2020 Ballot

On election day 2020, numerous drug policy and enforcement reforms appeared on state-level ballots. To gain a better understanding of what this election could mean for drug policy across the U.S., the center developed a list of key ballot initiatives reaching voters and how they fared.

2020 Presidential Candidates on Marijuana

Given the saliency of this issue leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) created a guide to presidential candidates’ stances concerning the reform of federal marijuana laws.