As votes continue to trickle in and we inch closer to knowing the outcome of the United States presidential election, numerous states have begun to pass ballot measures with implications for the fields of health, technology, and the environment. One striking pattern is that Americans are rejecting policies that criminalize marijuana and other recreational drugs in every state where the question has appeared on ballots. Meanwhile, several cities have approved measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Other policies have addressed data privacy, abortion access, and conservation.
Here’s what you need to know about the science news coming out of the 2020 presidential election.
For decades, the United States has pursued a War on Drugs that has disproportionately harmed communities of color. Since the 1990s, however, a number of states have legalized medical, and then recreational, use of marijuana. This week, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona joined 11 other states that have made recreational marijuana legal, and Mississippi and South Dakota joined 33 other states that have legalized medical marijuana. Washington, D.C., also decriminalized psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in psychedelic mushrooms.
Oregon, however, went a few steps further. The state has now decriminalized possession of small amounts of recreational drugs such as cocaine and heroin and legalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin, which shows promising potential for treating psychiatric conditions including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Elsewhere, measures both protecting and jeopardizing abortion access passed. Colorado rejected a proposed ban on abortions taking place after 22 weeks of pregnancy, while Louisiana voted in favor of an amendment to its constitution stating that it does not protect pregnant people’s right to an abortion.
Voters in Washington state supported a bill that will require public schools to provide comprehensive sex education that addresses, among other issues, affirmative consent and sexually transmitted infections. And in California, a proposition is leading to continue funding research on stem cell based treatments for diseases such as HIV and blood cancers through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, though there has been some controversy over how the Institute receives funding and accepts oversight on its work.
In California, a proposition was approved stating that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft will be treated as independent contractors rather than employees. This allows the companies to continue working with drivers without needing to provide them benefits such as health and unemployment insurance, and other benefits that employees have legal access toThe state also passed an initiative to increase privacy protections that allow Californians to control how much personal data is shared with advertisers—however, the measure is controversial because it allows companies to charge more to consumers who opt out of sharing their data. Additionally, the state rejected a ballot measure to eliminate cash bail and replace it with a criminal risk assessment system that uses algorithms to predict how likely a defendant will commit another offense; opponents have raised concerns that these algorithms will perpetuate discrimination against people of color.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts voted to allow car owners and independent mechanics access to wireless data, expanding the state’s “right to repair” law. Without access to wireless data that can be used in repairs, mechanics who aren’t employed by the car’s manufacturer would be unable to repair components of the vehicle connected to remote servers. Chicago voted overwhelmingly in support of ensuring broadband internet access in all the city’s community areas. And in Michigan, a proposition passed requiring a search warrant for access to a person’s electronic data and communications.
A ballot measure to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado’s western mountains by the end of 2023 has narrowly succeeded. Gray wolves were once abundant across the United States, but were nearly wiped out by overhunting in the 20th century. The Trump administration recently announced plans to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, but biologists say the species is still in need of protection. Gray wolves haven’t roamed Colorado for more than 70 years, with the exception of occasional lone wolves and a small pack spotted this year.
While the United States has just pulled out of the Paris climate accord (although Joe Biden has vowed to rejoin the agreement if elected), several areas have passed measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Denver has voted to increase its sales tax to raise money for initiatives such as training for clean energy jobs and investing in renewable sources of energy, while Nevada has amended its state constitution to require that electricity providers move to at least 50 percent renewable energy sources by 2030.
Finally, the election has also seen its share of seats both won and lost by candidates with backgrounds in the sciences. Several Democratic candidates with degrees and work experience in chemistry, engineering, ecology, and medicine have been defeated in House and Senate races. However, several members of Congress, including two engineers and a pediatrician, are projected to fend off Republican challengers. Republican Ronny Jackson—the former White House physician who once declared that President Trump “has incredible genes”—has won a congressional seat in Texas. And Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, has claimed the Senate seat in Arizona once held by John McCain.