Defunding the police triumphed at the polls, even if we do not call it that. And it was bipartisan. By defunding, I mean Washington D.C. voting to decriminalize psilocybin, Oregon voters approving two landmark reform measures—Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin therapies, and Measure 110, decriminalizing personal possession of all drugs–as well as the four states that legalize recreational cannabis (New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana, along with Mississippi which passed medical cannabis). These are significant reforms and reveal a couple of things.
First, the Oregon measure recognizes a fundamental reality in American life: drug use is already decriminalized and legal for wealthy people. Second, there is no separation between recreational and medical drug use, other than more affluent, whiter segments of the population receive prescriptions from doctors, and poor people do not. Finally, one interpretation is that voters are coming to understand arresting people for drug possession does not help individuals, improve public safety, or provide obvious benefits to anyone. Instead, it controls poor people in a society that, unlike its peer nations, fails to provide essential services, whether it is healthcare, housing, medical care, paid leave. The only service the poor receive comes through the criminal punishment system. Let’s touch on all these points.
Wealthier people already enjoy drug use without fear of criminal penalties. For instance, politicians, executives, entrepreneurs, and the most privileged enclaves of elite society (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Ivy League) consume drugs. It is not some hidden fact, but well-publicized in the country’s largest papers. Just like there is a two-tier justice system, there is also a two-tier drug-taking system. The way it works is through inaction. The DEA will never raid Facebook, Goldman Sachs, or Senate cloakrooms searching for drugs. Police will never set up a stop-and-frisk infrastructure targeting students from Harvard or Yale. As Chris Arnade, a former Wall Street alum who now documents the lives of the most impoverished, summed it up this way: “The wealthy make mistakes, the poor go to jail.”