This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic
6th November 2020

It can take a while to determine the victor in a presidential election. But one winner was abundantly clear on Election Day.

Drugs, once thought to be the scourge of a healthy society, are getting public recognition as a part of American life. Where drugs were on the ballot on Tuesday, they won handily.

New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona joined 11 other states that had already legalized recreational marijuana. Mississippi and South Dakota made medical marijuana legal, bringing the total to 35.

The citizens of Washington, D.C., voted to decriminalize psilocybin, the organic compound active in psychedelic mushrooms. Oregon voters approved two drug-related initiatives. One decriminalized possession of small amounts of illegal drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. (It did not make it legal to sell the drugs.) Another measure authorized the creation of a state program to license providers of psilocybin.

Election night represented a significant victory for three forces pushing for drug reform for different but interlocking reasons. There is the increasingly powerful cannabis industry. There are state governments struggling with budget shortfalls, hungry to fill coffers in the midst of a pandemic.

And then there are the reform advocates, who for decades have been saying that imprisonment, federal mandatory minimum sentences and prohibitive cash bail for drug charges ruin lives and communities, particularly those of Black Americans.

Decriminalization is popular, in part, because Americans believe that too many people are in jails and prisons, and also because Americans personally affected by the country’s continuing opioid crisis have been persuaded to see drugs as a public health issue.

The war on drugs has lost its political allure for many conservatives. John A. Boehner, the former Republican speaker of the House, was once a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization. He is now the chairman of the National Cannabis Roundtable, a lobbying group.

“When cannabis is on the ballot, it wins,” Mr. Boehner said of Tuesday’s results. “Even with hyper-partisanship everywhere else, people of all stripes agree about cannabis reform.”

So do businesspeople. “It’s not really a hippie peacenik substance anymore,” said Martin Lee, a drug historian and CBD information advocate. “It’s big business. Billions of dollars are involved with this.”

The money that cartels and drug companies found in illegal and unintended use of drugs has become attractive to many, given the substances’ growing medical and cultural legitimacy. Plant-based drugs, for example, are a growing category in the booming business of wellness.

Michael Pollan, the author of “How to Change Your Mind,” which focused on the cultural history and medicinal use of psychedelics, said that he believed there were two currents at work in Tuesday’s results: the public’s exhaustion with the drug war and the reframing of marijuana and psilocybin as medicines.

Now marijuana, psilocybin and MDMA (the scientific name for Ecstasy or Molly) are increasingly seen as good for you.

“The image of psychedelics was closely tied to the counterculture and Timothy Leary,” Mr. Pollan said. “Now, when people think about psychedelics, many of them think about psychotherapy. They think about healing.”

‘It Is Time for Us to End the Drug War’

“Twenty years ago, no one thought a night like this would be possible,” said Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which pushes for criminal justice reform on drugs. She called the passage of the measures, particularly in Montana and South Dakota, “a resounding mandate that it is time for us to end the drug war and that decriminalization is politically viable.”

In 1969, two years before the dawn of the drug war, 84 percent of Americans thought marijuana should be illegal, according to the Pew Research Center. By 2019, again according to Pew, 91 percent of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana.

Political opposition to marijuana has not disappeared entirely. Kevin Sabet, an adviser in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under three presidents who has fought against legalization, said that many of marijuana’s opponents had just gone underground.

Still, he said, they’re out there: “If you read my email inbox, you’d see all the messages of support.”

Emily Dufton, the author of “Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America,” said that marijuana had always became more socially acceptable when other, more dangerous drugs began to concern the public.

Crack cocaine, which became a focus of the media in the mid-1980s — but whose impacts were overblown and whose policing was racist — displaced worries about marijuana for many years.

And the opioid epidemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans — about 48,000 died from opioid overdoses in 2019 — has also helped contextualize marijuana as a significantly less dangerous drug. (On Thursday, The New York Times reported that three major drug distributors and a drug manufacturer were close to agreement on a billion dollar settlement with state and local governments for the companies’ role in the epidemic.)

“The cultural campaigns against pot can’t gain a foothold when opioids today, or crack in the 1980s, seemed so much scarier or more deadly,” Ms. Dufton said.

President Nixon started the war on drugs but it grew increasingly draconian during the Reagan administration. Nancy Reagan’s top priority was the antidrug campaign, which she pushed aggressively as her husband signed a series of punitive measures into law — measures shaped in part by Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Joe Biden’s Record on Race


Listen to ‘The Daily’: Joe Biden’s Record on Race

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Alexandra Leigh Young and Eric Krupke, with help from Jessica Cheung and Luke Vander Ploeg, and edited by Lisa Tobin and Marc Georges

As a senator, he opposed busing and championed laws that transformed the criminal justice system. Now, as a presidential candidate, he faces renewed scrutiny over the legacy of those decisions.

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

Today: In the Democratic race for president, Joe Biden is being asked to confront a record on race that some in his party now see as outdated and unjust. Astead Herndon on the policies Biden embraced and how they were viewed when he embraced them.

It’s Wednesday, July 3.

I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe — and it’s personal. And I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly.

Astead, to the average American watching the debates last week, what do you think that this now famous confrontation between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seemed to be about?

On its most literal level, it was two top-tier Democrats having the most confrontational, direct moment we’ve seen in the primary so far.

If we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that. I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor. I came out, and I left a good law firm to become a public defender, when, in fact — [APPLAUSE] — when, in fact, my city was in flames because of the assassination of Dr. King.

But in the bigger, more abstract view, these were two different generations of Democrats. One, a barrier-breaking, younger black senator, pushing the old guard, the senator who came in the 1970s, who had relationships with segregationists and avowed racists. She was pushing him on racial issues and trying to hold him accountable for how the Democratic Party has handled issues of race for decades leading up to this point.

But it also felt like this was about the details of a specific policy that Biden was a part of. And most of us probably don’t really understand what his intentions were or what the context of that policy was. So take us back to that time. Where was Joe Biden in his political career?

Well, Joe Biden began as a lawyer in Wilmington and, eventually, a city councilor in the county. And he was emerging at a really racially contentious time within the city and state.

In April, after the murder of Martin Luther King, the National Guard was called out in several cities to put down riots. One of these cities was Wilmington, Delaware. But now, in Wilmington, the National Guard is still on duty. And the governor, Charles Terry, has no plan to send it back.

And Joe Biden runs for Senate in 1971 as a new type of Democrat —

I’m Joe Biden, and I’m a candidate for the United States Senate.

— a Democrat who understands black communities and has personal and deep relationships in those communities, but as a Democrat who can also unite the kind of outer portions of the state, which saw those issues very differently.

Politicians have done such a job on the people that the people don’t believe them anymore. And I’d like a shot at changing that.

Joe Biden himself tells a story about how he was the only lifeguard at a newly integrated pool in Wilmington.

I applied to the city of Wilmington for a job, and I was the only white employee here. And I learned so much. And I realized that I live in a neighborhood where I could turn on the television, and I’d see and listen to Dr. King and others. But I didn’t know any black people. No, I really didn’t. You didn’t know any white people either. That’s the truth.

It was part of his identity and part of his brand that he cared about civil rights, understood the plight of African-Americans in Wilmington, but also, he understood that kind of outer white Delaware was really motivated around grievance at the time. In 1971, a group of black students had filed a lawsuit in hopes to get the schools to further desegregate. And so the question of school segregation and school integration was very much on the forefront of the state’s politics. And at the exact same time, that’s when the young Joe Biden makes his way to Capitol Hill.

And what was Biden’s position when it came to desegregation?

Where the court has concluded that a school district, a state, or a particular area has intentionally attempted to prevent black, or any group of people, from attending a school, the court should and must declare that to be unconstitutional and thereby move from there to impose a remedy to correct the situation.

Joe Biden takes the position, as many other politicians did at that time, that they were not opposed to the idea of integration. What they’re opposed to was the remedy.

I have argued that the least effective remedy to be imposed is the busing remedy.

You get a court order in the late ‘70s that says that Delaware schools are too racially segregated, and they must form a plan for racial integration. And a plan is instituted by the courts that says, from the city in Wilmington, which is majority black, and the suburbs outside of it, that both those groups of students were for some portion of their schooling going to have to bus to the opposite community. So for the kind of inner city students, which are majority black, they were going to have to go out to the suburbs for six years. And the outer suburbs would have to come into Wilmington schools for about three years. So this becomes the plan that’s put in place that inflames those racial tensions on both sides of the state.

And what is Biden’s opposition to that specific solution?

That the idea of integration was not a problem, but it was how the courts were forcing them to go about it. You have to think — if you were a parent in the suburbs, which is almost exclusively white, who had made that choice for your family almost entirely around the school district that your child was supposed to go into. And then there is a court order that comes down that says not only are different people coming to that school, but that your child is going to be put on a bus to a different school. That is the logic that those parents used to oppose the idea of busing. And so at one point in 1975, Joe Biden says, the real problem with busing is you take people who aren’t racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children’s intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school. And you’re going to fill them with hatred.

So Biden is sympathizing with white parents in the suburbs who are suddenly feeling dislocated by this decision. But what about black parents in this city whose children would be bused to these theoretically better schools in the suburbs? What is Biden saying to them?

This is an important point. Although the kind of white suburbs were almost uniformly against busing, somewhat because of the method and sometimes because of pure racism, in black communities, particularly in Wilmington, there is not universal agreement on this issue. There is universal consensus that integration is important and that their schools had not been adequately funded or not been adequately supported by the state. But when you look at polling and when you talk to people at the time, the actual issue of busing is controversial. Remember, these parents themselves had to send their children further away into neighborhoods and communities that may have not always been welcoming to those students. So it wasn’t universally loved. In one poll, about 40 percent of black parents supported the idea, 40 percent were against it, around 20% were unsure. Joe Biden tries to take a nuanced position, where sometimes it seems like he is a vocal opponent of the idea of busing and that he is signaling to the kind of white Delaware that he is their advocate.

And on the issue that the argument is about — and that is whether or not busing is, A, required constitutionally, and B, has a utilitarian value for desegregation — I come down on the side of A, it is not constitutionally required, and B, it is not a useful tool.

But there’s other times when he sounds very much like many of the black leaders in Wilmington who say, I don’t know if I like this remedy, but I do know that the issue of integration is really important. So he’s kind of firmly in the middle. And that kind of middle ground is something we see him stake on a number of issues, most notably crime, where he takes the kind of position and relies on those personal relationships with black communities, while, according to his critics, legislating in the interest of white ones.

We’ll be right back. So Joe Biden takes the middle ground, or the middle ground for that time, on busing. How do we then see that in his approach to crime?

This one’s a little different, because while Biden on busing was seen as kind of emblematic of the larger Democratic stance, with crime, he was really kind of pushing the boundaries. At that time, particularly in the ‘80s and ‘90s, was a kind of moral panic happening throughout the country —

Crack, the most addictive form of cocaine, is now sweeping New York.

— around the explosion of drugs in cities —

It’s going nationwide, especially among the young, a drug so pure and so strong, it might just as well be called crack of doom.

— and the violent crime that often associated and came with them.

It’s the devil — see, this cocaine ain’t nothing but the devil, and the devil was telling me to do it.

And Biden, as someone who had come up in Wilmington, a community that was experiencing these things closely, he had black community leaders, neighbors of his, saying the issue was very important, but that they were looking at kind of root cause problems of why crime was happening. They were talking about issues like education or job opportunities and the like. When the outer Wilmington and the kind of all-white suburbs, you were hearing a more vocal cry for increasing cops, increasing prisons, and really cracking down on those tough-on-crime measures that came to the cities. So again, Biden is caught between political problem, but also one that’s divided pretty clearly on racial lines.

And so what does he do?

The truth is every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress has had the name of the Democratic senator from the state of Delaware, Joe Biden, on that bill.

There’s this split screen of Joe Biden that you often hear about when you talk to people in Wilmington. There is the neighbor who would go to black churches, would know the kind of leaders by name, and the issues they were advocating for. But then in Washington, you have a Joe Biden that is using those stories of Wilmington to kind of pass more tough-on-crime measures that some in that community say they weren’t asking for. In 1977, he first proposes mandatory minimums for drug sentences. And through the ‘80s, in his connection with Strom Thurmond, they end up passing a really kind of significant set of bills.

Not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time.

In 1984, that establishes mandatory minimums. In ‘86, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act creates harsher sentences for crack than powder cocaine. And it kind of builds up into the early ‘90s, when Bill Clinton is elected president, the ‘94 bill —

Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your introduction and for your labors on this bill.

— the “three strikes and you’re out” kind of policy —

“Three strikes and you’re out” will be the law of the land.

— where, if you had three instances of drug offenses or violent drug offenses, it would be an instant life sentence.

We have the tools now. Let us get about the business of using them.

And what do we understand about how the black community back in Delaware felt about these tough crime measures at the time?

Joe Biden talks about, to this day, in his presidential campaign, they make a big point to say that the Congressional Black Caucus overwhelmingly voted for the bill and that black leaders at the time were very supportive of the bill. That is partly true. The Congressional Black Caucus certainly backed the bill after showing some initial wariness. The majority of its members voted for it. There were some vocal black mayors who were calling for these particular measures. But there were also some who were against it.

This ill-conceived bill, fed by a media frenzy over crime, was on the fast track to the president’s desk for signature by Christmas.

Jesse Jackson spoke out against it.

Spending several billion dollars on prisons and longer sentences is not the answer to reducing crime.

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke out against it. Representatives like Bobby Scott said they knew that the kind of increase of police in these neighborhoods would cause detrimental effects.

Right. So what turns out to be, over time, the actual impact of all of these bills, including the biggest of them all, that 1994 crime bill, in the years that followed?

The undeniable impact is an explosion of America’s prison population that has disproportionately affected black and brown communities. So coming out of the ‘80s and ‘90s, you have a pretty clear articulation from then-Senator Biden that cops and the expansion of cops is a preventative measure.

In a nutshell, the president’s plan doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs.

He felt that the kind of presence of police officers, the increased presence of police officers in these communities, would inherently mean that crime would go down. As the years have gone on, it has become clear that the actual effect was not that, but was the disruption of the communities themselves. When I was in Wilmington talking to folks there, they were saying by 1994, it was already clear that the tough-on-crime kind of measures of the ‘80s weren’t working on the streets. It was not decreasing crime, but more importantly, it was causing a kind of incarceration effect that didn’t have the terminology for mass incarceration that we now call it, but it was clear that communities were getting ruptured by the increase in sentences and the increased focus on tough-on-crime measures.

And of course, the legacy of busing is that we’ve seen a resegregation of the U.S. school system, because the job was never really done.

Exactly. There is a narrative that busing failed, but the truth is kind of murkier. Busing, as a policy, often did achieve its goals and racially integrate the places it was instituted. What failed was the political will to keep those measures in place that made integration happen and to see racial integration of schools as a necessary problem to solve. So in the last decades, you have not only overturned to pre-busing segregation levels, but in some places, you have racial segregation in schools becoming even worse than they were, or just as bad as they were, at the time of Brown v. Board of Education.

So Astead, it seems like what we’re seeing in the debate last week, in this exchange between Harris and Biden, was that Biden is going to have to confront these past policies as their legacies are understood in the current moment. And that means complicated legacies with real implications, many of them quite negative for the black community.

Joe Biden is being — his whole record is being examined in new ways. He’s run for president twice before, but never as a front-runner and never as someone who enjoys this amount of support among black communities. Remember, this is still the vice president to the first black president. This is still the person who is seen, oftentimes, as the most likely to beat President Trump in the Democratic Party, which black communities have often seen as their number one goal. So he’s enjoying this kind of support, robust support, among black communities, while at the same time, his rivals are trying to use his record, particularly on busing and crime, to wrest away those votes. And I think that’s a really interesting question, is will these moments, like the one Senator Harris made happen in the debate, will they start to chip away at that image of him as a champion and an advocate for black communities? As people come to understand the record and as people come to understand the context of Delaware at the time, will he be seen as someone who was navigating a difficult racial terrain or as someone who kept black people close, but fundamentally legislated in the interests of white communities?

And so the question is, will voters evaluate him for what he was trying to accomplish in the ‘70s, and the ‘80s, and the ‘90s, or for what we now understand the impact of those bills to have been up through today? I wonder if you have any sense of how black voters are seeing that from your reporting.

I spent a lot of time in South Carolina, where we have the biggest population of black voters in the early states. And Joe Biden enjoys a large amount of goodwill in those places. What that is not is a deep connection to Joe Biden as an individual. As I heard someone say recently, his support is wide, but it’s thin. I think that people vote on a lot of different levels. Voting based on policy and record is one of them. Voting based on emotion, and feeling, and connection is another. And I think in this era for Democrats, and particularly for black Democrats who feel as if Trump has brought in a new era of white identity politics, there’s voting based on fear. And what you hear in South Carolina is not that they want to vote for Joe Biden because they believe in the things that he has done. But they see him as kind of an emergency fix to a much worse problem for them, which they believe is the presidency of Donald Trump.

Astead, is what you’re saying the black voters may be more inclined to go with a safe choice, because in their mind, in this racial climate and in this political climate, the alternative, which is not winning the presidency, is far more threatening than a Democratic candidate with a debatable historical record on race?

Yep. And I think it’s important to make distinctions when we talk about black voters. We particularly see that kind of calculation among older black voters and black voters who are in the South. Now among younger voters, we see a bigger willingness to reject Joe Biden because of some of those records and to embrace candidates who are talking more explicitly and openly about structural changes to create racial equity. But among the older voters, who remain the real heart and soul of the black vote and a sizable portion of the Democratic electorate, it’s that calculation of safety that’s really helping Joe Biden right now. But we should also say that among those older voters, many of them can remember 1994 and remember the 1980s and may have themselves supported these bills and seen their thinking change as well. And I think that’s the important thing to not forget, is just as Joe Biden has evolved, so have many of these people. And I’ve talked to people who don’t see what he did as particularly invalidating, frankly, because they have experienced that same evolution. And sometimes, I have talked to people who said that ‘94 crime bill ruined their homes, and they also say they can’t wait to vote for Joe Biden in the primary.

Before I start, I’d like to say something about the debate we had last night. And I heard, and I listened to, and I respect Senator Harris. But we all know that 30 seconds to 60 seconds on a campaign debate exchange can’t do justice to a lifetime committed to civil rights.

Well, so Astead, what do you make of how defensive Biden has been to these criticisms and these questions about his legacy, rather than acknowledging, a lot has changed since then. I was doing what I thought was best in the moment. I now see, I now understand that it played out differently than I expected.

This is a question I’ve thought a lot about. If by the early 1990s, it was clear to the cops on the ground in Wilmington that the tough-on-crime measures didn’t work, that the disparities that were created in the ‘80s between crack and cocaine were disproportionately hurting black communities, why did it take until this year for Joe Biden to acknowledge it himself? And we don’t have clear answers to that.

I haven’t always been right. I know we haven’t always gotten things right. But I’ve always tried.

We know that Joe Biden very rarely apologizes. But it was not until this year that you really have an articulation from Vice President Biden that he played a role as a senator in creating some of these disparities.

That Barack and I finally reduced the disparity in sentencing, which we had been fighting to eliminate, in crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. It was a big mistake when it was made. We thought we were told by the experts that, crack, you never go back. It was somehow fundamentally different. It’s not different. But it’s trapped an entire generation.

Do you think it’s possible that he might fear that if he apologizes, that that might weaken him more with moderate voters who don’t feel that Americans should have to apologize for that period, for those instincts, and for those policies?

I think that’s a big possibility. I also think Joe Biden was acting in what he believes was good faith, even at that moment, and what he thinks was the evidence in front of him and the context of the time. I think it’s important to always go back to Delaware with him. And in the moment that he comes up in, it is part of his personal and political identity that he was an advocate for the black communities and that he was performing a new role and, frankly, public service to those communities that white politicians had not done in that state. And so I think it’s bigger than just the political realities of right now and what apologizing would mean. To apologize would go to the heart of what his identity has been since he got in public office in the 1970s.

Mm-hmm. And he’s just not willing to apologize for that. Because in fact, he’s still proud of it.

The evidence in front of us tells us that’s true. He was praising the crime bill just years ago. And he has called it, at some points, his greatest accomplishment. And he has shown a real resistance to the many opportunities that activists and other rivals have given him to say that those actions were a mistake.

Astead, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Thanks for having me.

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday, the Trump administration said it would end its attempts to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, dropping the proposed question from the survey. The decision comes just days after the Supreme Court ruled that the administration had failed to offer a compelling explanation for including the question, which critics said was an attempt to discourage undocumented immigrants from filling out the census, and ultimately, skew the results of the census in favor of Republicans. And House Democrats have filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, demanding access to President Trump’s tax returns. The lawsuit moves a months-old political dispute between Congress and the White House into the federal courts. At the heart of the fight is whether Congress has the legal right to review the president’s personal financial information. The White House says that such requests must be limited to materials needed to draft laws. House Democrats say that their powers are far broader and are not subject to second-guessing by the executive branch.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you on Friday, after the holiday.

“We want you to help us create an outspoken intolerance for drug use,” Mrs. Reagan said in 1986. “For the sake of our children, I implore each of you to be unyielding and inflexible in your opposition to drugs.”

America’s airwaves were flooded with antidrug initiatives. An ad campaign that starred a man frying an egg and claiming “this is your brain on drugs” was introduced in 1987 and aired incessantly. Numerous animal mascots took up the cause of warning children about drugs and safety, including Daren the Lion, who educated children on drugs and bullying, and McGruff the Crime Dog, who taught children to open their hearts and minds to authority figures.

In 1986 Congress passed a law mandating severe prison sentences for users of crack, who were disproportionately Black. In 1989, with prison rates rising, 64 percent of Americans surveyed said that drug abuse was the most serious problem facing the United States.

The focus on crack meant that when pot returned to the headlines in the 1990s, it received comparatively cozy publicity. In 1996, California voters passed a measure allowing for the use of medical marijuana. Two years later, medical marijuana initiatives were approved by voters in four more states.

“The playbook in legalizing marijuana was, first, change its image from a recreational drug to a medicine,” Mr. Pollan said. “Once you’ve changed its image, you have a much easier time legalizing it for everybody.”

In Every Vice, an Opportunity

Vivien Azer, a managing director at Cowen, an investment and financial services company in New York, said in a note to investors on Wednesday that she expected the marijuana market to expand to more than $34 billion by 2025, given the success of the various ballot initiatives.

David Culver, a vice president at Canopy Growth Corporation who focuses on governmental relations — Mr. Boehner made millions as a board member of a marijuana investment firm bought by Canopy — said that his pitch to politicians mainly hinged on convincing them that the drug was a powerful tool electorally. It is, Mr. Culver believes, more a generational issue than a partisan one.

“It’s something that’s wildly accepted in the under-40 crowd,” he said. “It’s something that the under-40s will vote on as single-issue voters. It’s also becoming more and more popular with seniors.”

Psilocybin may be a tougher sell to some. But Mr. Pollan said that there was stronger research for the health benefits of psilocybin than for cannabis.

Supporters of the psilocybin measure passed in Oregon note that it will not turn psilocybin into a street drug, but instead will set up the state to regulate it as a medicine. Amanda Eilian, a partner at Able Partners, a venture capital firm that has invested in the future of psychedelics, said that Tuesday’s results would boost the legitimacy of the nascent industry.

“I do think you’ll see growth on investor side and the company formation side,” she said.

Even as public opinion has changed, law enforcement still aggressively polices the possession of drugs — even legal drugs — by Black people, who, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released earlier this year, are more than 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. As of March of this year, 20 percent of the more than two million incarcerated people in the United States were imprisoned because of drug offenses. Many of those people have not been convicted of any crime, and are held in local jails after arrest.

Mr. Pollan noted that even as the war on drugs had receded, the federal government had introduced other powerful law enforcement measures, including the Patriot Act and the surveillance apparatus associated with the National Security Agency.

Amber Littlejohn, the executive director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said that it would be a mistake to presume that support for legalization meant that voters were ready to grapple with the damage done to Black and Latino communities by the war on drugs.

“Once the legalization happens and the money is on the table for large operators and the state, it becomes so hard to strike those bargains and to make sure there is enough that is done for the communities that have truly been harmed by prohibition,” she said.

As the tide turns, Ms. Littlejohn said, Black entrepreneurs are concerned that they will be shut out of the market. The struggle to share in the wealth coming from legalization is only just beginning.

What Comes Next?

If states are the laboratories of democracy, then, as Mr. Pollan put it, some of the measures passed on Tuesday will set up interesting experiments.

Neighboring states will watch as Montana and New Jersey create regional cannabis destinations to be envied, imitated or scorned; unlike some other states, Montana and New Jersey do not directly border states where marijuana is fully legal, so they could draw more customers from out of state (though it is illegal to bring marijuana into a state where it is criminal).

And it’s not entirely clear that marijuana is always the fiscal boost its champions say it is, even as cannabis tourism has helped states like California and Colorado. A state assessment of the financial impact of legalization in Montana, for example, showed that the state expected significant revenue — as much as $48 million a year in 2025 — but that its implementation costs would be nearly as high.

Policy wonks will assess the performance of Oregon’s health authority as it creates its program to license psilocybin distributors, an unusual function for a state department of health regardless of the drug in question. And Americans all over the country will note — warily or hopefully — what happens in Oregon, now that possession of all controlled substances has been decriminalized.

Adam Eidinger, an activist in Washington, D.C., who proposed the ballot measure that pushed to legalize marijuana there, was also the treasurer of the campaign to decriminalize psilocybin. (The campaign operated out of his house in the Kalorama neighborhood, home to the Obamas and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.)

Next year, Mr. Eidinger plans to campaign for an initiative in D.C. to decriminalize possession of all controlled substances, much like the one that passed in Oregon. “People want to end the drug war,” he said.

Mr. Sabet, the former White House drug policy adviser, did not expect the nation to follow in Oregon’s footsteps — at least not immediately.

“I don’t know if I’d put my money on America wanting to legalize heroin tomorrow,” he said.

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