The 2016 election could be a pivotal year for marijuana legalization and drug policy.

Is the 2016 election planting the seeds for policy shifts? Image Source: Flickr CC user Janet Ramsden.

In the hubbub of the presidential upset, marijuana laws have been less center stage this year than in past elections. But even if the buzz has been a little quieter, this has been a pivotal year for cannabis, with advocates saying this election might be a turning point for marijuana legalization around the country. Nine states voted on cannabis initiatives in this election and at least seven of them passed. That means over half of U.S. states now have some form of legal medical marijuana, and twenty percent of adults have access to recreational marijuana. With the tide changing on popular opinion of cannabis, can we hope the same will hold true for other psychedelics down the road?

Of course, the implications of a Trump administration also have legalization supporters debating the possibility of nationwide marijuana legalization, which most agree would be the first step toward a broader discussion about psychedelics. Although Donald Trump has expressed casual support of medical marijuana, he hasn’t been very vocal in the discussion of marijuana legalization. Other psychedelics like ibogaine, psilocybin, and MDMA haven’t even made it to the presidential political stage, although Republicans have historically been less favorable towards psychedelics. So it’s still uncertain what the political paradigm shift might mean for the future of psychedelic drug policy.

But if the past decade has been any indication, the next four years will only bring more clinical evidence of the benefits of psychedelics. And with the added pressure of a mounting opiate epidemic, it seems more and more likely that our next president will have to address issues of drug abuse and public health. It’s important that we have an honest, open discussion about the problems we face as a nation and all the possible solutions. While this election may prove to be a major turning point for marijuana reform, it might also be a foot in the door for a much needed discussion about psychedelics and the broader War on Drugs.

What It Means for Nationwide Legalization

Of the five states with recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot, four of them—California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine—legalized the retail sale of cannabis. A similar bill in Arizona did not pass by a narrow margin. Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas passed initiatives for medical marijuana, and Montana expanded the terms of an existing medical marijuana law. To tally up the score, the election pushed the number of states with medical marijuana initiatives to twenty eight, and eight states now have legal recreational marijuana in addition to Washington, D.C.

For a lot of policy experts, California is key here. California often leads the way in policy reform, and the state’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana very well may lead other states to follow suit. This also follows the national trend which shows that more people support marijuana legalization than ever. Gallup, which has been tracking public opinion on marijuana since 1969, showed that 60% of Americans now support legalizing marijuana.

So what does Donald Trump mean for the future of legal marijuana? It’s still not exactly clear. While Trump has not made a definitive stance on marijuana legalization, he supports medical marijuana and has said that it’s a decision that should be left to the state. A lot of legalization advocates feel confident he won’t mess with that, particularly after the 2013 Cole Memorandum granted states the right to regulate and police marijuana as they saw fit.

Interestingly, Trump is also on record for calling the War on Drugs a failure and supporting the legalization of drugs. A 1990 article in a Sarasota, Florida newspaper titled “Donald Trump: Legalize Drugs” couldn’t have said it clearer. “We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” Trump was quoted as saying at a business luncheon. He even went on to suggest that tax revenue from cannabis sales could go toward education about the dangers of drugs, which isn’t too far a cry from the popular idea that money used to incarcerate people for possession could instead be funneled toward drug abuse treatment programs.

Of course, that was over 25 years ago, and it’s still uncertain what the unprecedented Trump presidency will bring. Trump has surrounded himself with conservatives who lean toward prohibition, and the prospect of Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General could mean a very conservative stance in the White House on legalization.    

Psychedelic Drug Policy and the War on Drugs

Not a lot of people are saying yet what this election might mean for the broader future of psychedelic drug policy. While dedicated advocates have been planting the seeds for eventual psychedelic legalization for decades, the contemporary issue still hasn’t fully reached the presidential political arena. Trump may have advocated off-the-cuff for legalization in the 90’s, but he’s yet to comment on the recent wave of research about the potential benefits of psychedelics like MDMA, ibogaine, and psilocybin.   

Public opinion of psychedelics is still a mixed bag, although more and more people nationwide are disenchanted with the failing War on Drugs and see addiction and high incarceration rates as problems. According to a survey from YouGov, most people do not support legalization of psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine, and ayahuasca. But another more recent survey from Pew shows that 67% of people also don’t believe people should be jailed for possession of drugs like heroin and cocaine and that, instead of incarceration, government focus should be on providing treatment. It seems popular opinion is shifting from prohibition to decriminalization, which is the first step toward a conversation about legalization.

Overall, there have been small but important signs this year that the DEA’s stringent hold on marijuana and psychedelics may be loosening. While the DEA kept marijuana classified as a Schedule I substance, it also loosened restrictions on cannabis studies. Beyond marijuana, MAPS’ strides with MDMA research has the psychedelic organization hoping that MDMA may be legal in as little as five years. Last month, the DEA also delayed their emergency rescheduling of kratom.

While they may seem like small gains, these are all steps toward an open, evidence-based discussion on how psychedelics could help alleviate our nation’s problems with addiction, drug abuse, and mental illness. While the wins of this election are vital milestones in the conversation about how our country treats drug policy, it’s important that this political momentum is used to further the discussion on the future of psychedelics.