Every election cycle, Oregonians vote on a number of ballot measures, covering items ranging from technicalities to sweeping programs of social change. Although other states in the country use the system of ballot initiatives, part of the "Oregon System", Oregon is one of the greatest users of its eponymous system. And in 2014, Oregon voters passed a measure that was perhaps the most important election result that night: they voted to legalize and regulate Cannabis.
Oregon, along with Washington and Colorado, had a ballot measure in 2012 to legalize Cannabis, but while Washington and Colorado passed theirs, Oregon's failed. This would be somewhat puzzling, based on the fact that the states have fairly similar demographics, but while Washington and Colorado's measures were well-written and professionally promoted, Oregon's measure was written and promoted by the hardcore of legalization activists, who failed to promote the measure outside of their own demographic. In 2014, this mistake wasn't repeated, and the 2014 measure looked more like the measure that had passed in Washington and Colorado. The state also had two years of (relative) success in Washington and Colorado to look at: while the roll-out of legalized Cannabis in those states had not gone totally smoothly, none of the more dire predictions of the anti-legalizaton advocates had materialized. The consensus throughout the spring and summer of 2014 was that the measure in Oregon would do better than its predecessor, but it was unclear that it would pass.
On election night, it won, and by a much larger margin than any polls had shown: it passed by 55-44 percent. As could be expected, its strongest support was in Multnomah County, but marijuana politics seem to escape the general polarities of politics: some generally conservative counties in the south of the state votes to legalize as well.
The victory in Oregon, along with another victory in Alaska that same night, means that 4 states have voted to legalize Cannabis. This means that several other states, most noticeably California in 2016, will also try to legalize marijuana. The biggest opposing force to legalization has for a long time been inertia: but that inertia has now shifted. There are many obstacles to legalizing Cannabis that have come up: Washington, for example, has faced the question of whether Native American Reservations can ban marijuana. And now that Oregon and Washington share a border, the situation has arisen where while marijuana is legal in both states, moving it from one to the other is still illegal. But the very fact that Cannabis legalization raises question in its implementation in a way legitimizes it: no longer is the objection to legalization "Haha, that is a crazy idea what are you going to say next, replace money with seashells?", but rather "What are the benefits and risks of doing this?"
A last interesting note is how little Cannabis legalization and drug policy reform have become partisan issues. In an era when the political parties pick apart everything as fodder for a culture war, Cannabis has not seemed to raise much comment in either party. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that Obama's decision to allow states to legalize and regulate marijuana raised less Republican ire than his decision to wear a tan suit. It will be interesting to see how Cannabis legalization and drug policy reform are co-opted (or not) by the parties going into the 2016 election.