While the Trump administration issued legal challenges to the 2020 presidential election results in key battleground states claimed by the Biden team, evangelicals were bemoaning the looming social damage from measures in several states where voters overwhelmingly approved decriminalizing drug use and expanding gambling operations.
And in the ongoing battle for the sanctity of human life, voters in Colorado and Louisiana split on abortion measures—the former rejecting a late-term abortion ban and the latter approving an amendment disavowing abortion rights under the state’s constitution. Meanwhile, 18 new pro-life women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, joining 11 pro-life female incumbents who won reelection.
Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to legalize possession of hard drugs, including less than 1 gram of heroin or MDMA; 2 grams of cocaine or methamphetamine; 12 grams of psilocybin mushrooms; and 40 doses of LSD, oxycodone or methadone beginning in February.
Oregonians voted by a margin of 58.6%-41.4% to replace criminal penalties with civil violations and small fines that can be waived upon completion of an evaluation by an addiction-treatment specialist. Under Oregon’s newly approved “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act,” drug users will avoid criminal prosecution by seeking drug addiction services funded by the state’s marijuana tax revenue, totaling more than $100 million per year. The measure also reduced criminal penalties for possession of larger amounts of illicit drugs while upholding laws against selling and manufacturing drugs.
Randy Adams, executive director and treasurer of the Northwest Baptist Convention, believes Oregon’s drug decriminalization measure will increase addiction, leading to “serious health and family problems, among other things.”
“We can expect that drug decriminalization will create a need for further taxation to deal with the fallout from increased drug use,” he said. “It is quite ironic that Oregon’s tax on tobacco is intended to provide health services for prevention and cessation programs for tobacco and nicotine-related diseases.”
Pro-life initiatives on the ballot received mixed results. Nearly 60% of Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have made it illegal to perform abortions after 22 weeks gestation, with safety exceptions for the mother. Seventeen other states restrict abortions at the same point in pregnancy, according to the liberal abortion research group Guttmacher Institute. Colorado remains among several states lacking a law linking fetal age to abortion restrictions.
In Louisiana, 62% of voters approved a constitutional amendment stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The stipulation likely could make it harder for Louisiana judges to ban abortion restrictions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to give states more latitude to regulate the procedure.
In 2006, Louisiana passed a “trigger law” that would automatically ban all abortions if Roe v. Wade were to fall. Now with the passage of the Love Life Amendment, it will be more difficult for people to challenge the trigger law if it were to take effect. Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia have similar language in their state constitutions.
Meanwhile, four more states—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—joined 11 other states and the District of Columbia where recreational marijuana use for adults is already legal.
Nearly 74% of Mississippi voters approved a state constitutional amendment legalizing possession of 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana for relief of 22 specific health conditions. Mississippi joins 33 other states and Washington, D.C., which already have medical marijuana provisions.
In other legislative reforms, Maryland and South Dakota approved sports betting measures; Nebraska legalized racetrack gambling; and Colorado expanded gaming operations, removed betting limits and approved charitable bingo and raffles.
Travis Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press the changes in the “predatory drug and gambling industries” are alarming.
“These industries exploit our neighbors who are poor, vulnerable and addicted. They deceptively extract money from communities that are already under-resourced, leaving strained relationships and broken homes in their wake,” Wussow said. “Pastors and church leaders must see this challenge for what it is and be ready to step into the gap for their communities and oppose the expansion of these industries in their states.”
Nearly 60% of Arizona voters approved a measure on recreational marijuana for people at least 21 years old that includes a 16% tax on marijuana sales. The Arizona Department of Health and Human Services is now charged with creating rules regulating marijuana businesses. In 2010, Arizonans approved medical marijuana, but had opposed recreational use in 2016 with just 51.3% of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.com. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey opposed the measure both years.
In Montana, 56.7% of voters agreed that the possession and use of marijuana for persons at least 21 years old should be legal, and approved a 21% tax on marijuana sales. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, according to the Montana Secretary of State’s office. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2004.
More than 66% of New Jersey voters legalized the possession and use of marijuana for persons age 21 and older and sanctioned the retail sale of marijuana, effective next year.
And in South Dakota, both recreational and medical marijuana use was approved by 53.4% of voters. The South Dakota state legislature must pass laws by April 1, 2022, providing for the use of medical marijuana and the sale of hemp, according to the amendment. A companion initiative, which was approved by 69% of voters, orders the creation by next October of a medical marijuana program for people with debilitating medical conditions.
In Washington state, 58% of voters approved a referendum requiring public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education, including LGBTQ-inclusivity, beginning in 2021 for grades 6-12. It will include K-5th grade students in 2022. Parents are allowed to opt out of the course on behalf of their children.
And 62.5% of voters in Nevada amended its constitution to protect same-sex marriage while exempting non-compliant clergy from litigation.
Above: Co-owner Troy Moore removes a jar of marijuana from the shelf at the “Oregon’s Finest” medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon.
Photo: Steve Dipaola/Reuters/Newscom