Voters in Oregon and D.C. legalize recreational marijuana use

Voters approved ballot measures allowing the recreational use of marijuana by adults, while other states weighed the minimum wage and abortion.

NEW YORK – Voters in Oregon and Washington, D.C., approved ballot measures Tuesday allowing the recreational use of marijuana by adults, elating legalization activists who hope to extend their winning streak across the U.S..

Oregon will join the company of Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved the recreational use of pot two years ago. And the U.S. capital is on the same path unless Congress, which has review power, blocks the move.

Still to come were results from Alaska, which also had a marijuana-legalization measure on its ballot Tuesday.

Other volatile issues on state ballots include minimum wage increases and abortion. Voters in Washington state, faced with two competing measures on gun sales, approved an expansion of background checks.

The marijuana measure in Washington, D.C., would make it legal to possess up to two ounces (56 grams) of pot and up to three mature marijuana plants for personal use, but it does not provide for the legal sale of marijuana, leaving that matter up to the D.C. Council. That’s different from the measures in Oregon and Alaska, which would follow the example of Colorado and Washington state in setting up systems for regulating and taxing retail sales of marijuana.

The Drug Policy Alliance, one of the leaders of the legalization campaign, said Tuesday’s results would bolster its efforts to push through a ballot measure in California in 2016

“The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the alliance’s executive director.

Oregon’s measure calls for pot legalization by July 1, and requires the state Liquor Control Commission to adopt regulations by Jan. 1, 2016.

Oregon sheriffs were among the law’s chief opponents, contending that legalization would give children access to marijuana and could lead to more people driving under the influence.

The campaign in D.C. included a debate about race – the measure’s supporters said blacks in the city had been disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrests.

In Florida, a measure that would have allowed marijuana use for medical reasons fell short of the 60 per cent approval to pass; near-complete returns showed it getting about 57 per cent of the vote. Twenty-three states allow medical marijuana.

In other ballot measures, voters in Colorado and North Dakota rejected measures that opponents feared could lead to bans on abortion.

The Colorado proposal would have added “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code. It was the third measure on Colorado ballots in recent years seeking to grant “personhood” to the unborn.

North Dakota voters rejected an amendment that would have declared in the state constitution “the inalienable right to life of every human being at every stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

In Tennessee, voters approved a measure that will give state legislators more power to regulate abortion. Opponents fear it will lead to tough new laws that would jeopardize women’s access to abortions.

Voters in Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all approved increases in the state minimum wage at the same time they were electing Republican to Congress who oppose increasing the national minimum wage . Alaskans also were voting on a minimum wage increase.

In Washington state, voters approved a measure to expand background checks on gun sales and transfers; the checks will be extended to private transactions and many loans and gifts. A rival measure would have prevented the state from expanding checks in that fashion; it was trailing statewide.

Like federal law, Washington law currently requires checks for sales or transfers by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers, like those who sell at gun shows or to friends.

California voters approved a ballot initiative that will reduce penalties for low-level drug and property crimes. Shoplifting, forgery, fraud and petty theft are among the crimes that will be treated as misdemeanours rather than felonies. Misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of less than a year in custody. The measure is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars in prison costs each year, with the savings diverted to school programs, victims’ services, and mental health and drug treatment.

Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have required labeling of certain genetically modified foods. 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.

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