The 2020 presidential election has been the talk of the nation for over a week now and, with recounts and legal challenges ongoing, will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
However, Nov. 3’s results were not all chaos and confusion. The states delivered several decisive victories for consumer choice on issues of ridesharing, rent control and drug decriminalization. Despite the quagmire, there’s still plenty to celebrate.
California reaffirmed rideshare drivers’ right to work as contractors with the passage of Proposition 22. The employment issue has been an ongoing one in the Golden State for some time now, after a disastrous law went into effect this year (AB 5) that forced many companies to reclassify independent contractors as employees.
One report by the Berkeley Research Group estimated that AB 5 could have resulted in the loss of 900,000 jobs for rideshare drivers — and that’s just one industry. AB 5 still affects many Californians earning their living from part-time gigs, like freelance journalists and photographers.
Residents of California approved of Prop 22 by a healthy margin at 58%, and the importance of this victory cannot be understated. Organized labor has been pushing AB 5-like bills in other blue states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and voters’ clear rejection of their efforts symbolizes a shot across the bow to preserve freedom in the future of work. Next, activists should focus their attention on liberating other freelancers in California and swatting away other misguided reclassification efforts that will inevitably come up.
California also rejected an attempted expansion of local rent control, Proposition 21, by nearly 60%. The initiative would have allowed local governments to enact rent control for dwellings over 15 years old. This is the second time in two years California voters have rejected rent control initiatives, a good move in one of the most expensive states for housing.
Countless studies have shown that rent control actually makes housing more expensive by discouraging the development of new buildings. By discouraging landlords from investing in repairs and renovation, it also degrades the quality of housing for tenants living in rent-controlled dwellings.
Seven states also delivered blows against the drug war. Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana legalized the recreational sale of cannabis, while Missouri legalized its sale medicinally. Here in Washington, D.C., Initiative 81 decriminalized the use of magic mushrooms and other psychedelic fungi by a whopping 76%. Oregon is the winner for going the furthest: It decriminalized possession of small amounts of street drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
That might seem ill-advised at face value, but it’s actually an extremely humane measure. Obviously, use of hard drugs is inadvisable in any circumstance, but abusers should not be treated as criminals. Legalizing possession can help take drug abuse off the streets, opening up centers and resources for addicts to avoid overdose and crime, and to wean themselves off their habit.
Other states should follow suit in writing what will hopefully be the final chapters of a drug war that has wasted more than $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives through incarceration and crime for no good reason.
This deregulation sweep is excellent news. While they’re at it, states should also look to roll back the recent legislative and regulatory assault on flavored tobacco products. California, for instance, is likely to have a ballot initiative in 2022 that could reverse a recently-signed law banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products such as vapes and menthol cigarettes.
Vaping, in particular, is a proven stepping stone for smokers to quit the habit, and research shows that vapers who choose fruit flavors are more likely to quit than those who choose tobacco flavor. There’s undoubtedly a legitimate public health concern in keeping flavored tobacco products out of the hands of minors. But that can be done through rigorous enforcement of age restrictions. Nobody blames distilleries for corrupting the youth by selling flavored vodka and liqueurs. The same logic should be applied to tobacco companies for the sake of human autonomy and harm reduction.
While we’re certain to hear plenty more squabbling about what exactly went down on election night, one result is certain: Americans of all stripes and political orientations stood up for freedom of choice. Activists should continue the momentum into 2022, pushing to repeal senseless restrictions on the ability to work, rent and shop.
Our nation’s consumer freedom is the envy of the world. When former Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited a Texas supermarket in 1989, he was stunned by the cornucopia of choice, shattering the leader’s romanticized view of communism. “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said. Let us not forget that consumer choice, no matter how trivial it may seem at times, has world-changing power.
• Casey Given is the president and executive director of Young Voices.