NEW YORK (AP) — Marijuana activists who have longed for decades to end America’s drug war pocketed more major victories Tuesday, with Oregon and the nation’s capital approving recreational pot use and a measure in Alaska holding a steady lead.
Other volatile issues on state ballots include gambling and abortion. Two competing measures in Washington state gave voters a choice on whether to expand background checks for gun sales.
In the 2012 general election, Washington state and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana use by adults, and they have subsequently implemented systems for regulating and taxing sales of pot.
The measures in Oregon and Alaska would likewise legalize retail sales of marijuana to anyone old enough to drink.
The measure in Washington, D.C., would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana, but not sell it. The campaign there has included a debate about race — the measure’s supporters say blacks in the city have been disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrests.
In Florida, a measure that would have allowed marijuana use for medical reasons fell short of the 60 percent approval to pass; near-complete returns showed it getting about 57 percent of the votes. Twenty-three other states allow medical marijuana.
Some of the other questions before voters Tuesday:
Voters in Berkeley, California, became the first in the country to pass a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. High-dollar advertising campaigns by the $76 billion U.S. soft-drink industry had defeated the proposal in more than 30 other cities and states in recent years, including San Francisco where voters on Tuesday rejected a soda tax.
In Massachusetts, voters passed up a chance to say “No” to casinos. They rejected a measure that would have repealed a 2011 law authorizing development of a slots parlor and up to three resort casinos. There are none in the state now, but casino plans have been approved for three cities across the state.
A victory for the anti-casino forces would have marked the first time — at least since the modern era of U.S. gambling began in 1931 — that a state reversed a major legislative decision to expand gambling.
Voters in four states approved increases in the state minimum wage. In Arkansas, it will rise from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, in Nebraska from $7.25 to $9 and in South Dakota from $7.25 to $8.50. In Alaska, it will increase $2 an hour to $9.75 in 2016.
Florida voters passed a measure that designates billions of dollars to conservation efforts over the next 20 years. Amendment 1 will draw its funding from an existing real estate tax, and would dedicate 33 percent of it annually to conservation. That would be about a billion a year.
In Colorado, voters rejected a proposal to add “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code, a measure that some feared could ban abortion. The measure was the third on Colorado ballots in recent years seeking to grant “personhood” to the unborn. The latest proposal asked voters about adding unborn children to criminal code as a way to strengthen protections for pregnant women.
In North Dakota, a similar measure was on that ballot that would provide “the inalienable right to life” for humans at “any stage of development.” Supporters and opponents differed on what impact it might have on abortion regulations.
A measure in Tennessee would give state legislators more power to regulate abortion. Supporters said the proposed amendment is needed to prevent the courts from quashing reasonable restrictions; opponents fear it would lead to tough new laws that would jeopardize women’s access to abortions.
TEACHERS TAKE STANDS
In Missouri, voters defeated a measure — bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions — that would have tied teachers’ jobs and salaries to the performance of their students.
Teachers unions were supporting an initiative in Washington state that would reduce class size and increase staffing support in grades K-12. State financial experts believe the measure would eventually cost the state about $2 billion a year to pay for thousands more teachers and other school staff.
Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have required labeling of certain genetically modified foods. The proposal would have applied to raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering, but not apply to food served in restaurants.
A similar measure was on the ballot in Oregon.
Opponents of the requirements — including food corporations and biotech firms — said mandatory labels would mislead consumers into thinking engineered ingredients are unsafe, which scientists have not proven.
In Hawaii, voters in Maui County opted to temporarily ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops after a campaign featuring $8 million in advertising from some of the world’s largest corn-seed producers.
In Washington state, voters approved a measure to expand background checks on gun sales and transfers; the checks will extended to private transactions and many loans and gifts. The rival measure would have prevented the state from expanding checks in that fashion; it was trailing statewide.
Washington state had two competing gun-related measures. One seeks background checks for all gun sales and transfers, including private transactions. The other would prevent any such expansion covering purchases from private sellers.
Supporters of the expanded checks, bolstered by gifts from Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, have spent far more than the anti-expansion campaign.
Six states require universal background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms. Washington’s law, like the federal law, requires checks for sales or transfers by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers.
Of the 147 ballot measures nationwide, the two that generated the most campaign spending were health-policy proposals in California. One measure would allow more expensive malpractice lawsuits and make California the first state requiring many doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests; the other would require the state insurance commissioner’s approval before health insurance rates could be changed.
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