Marijuana reform wins big in ballot initiatives
Marijuana advocates won major victories in ballot initiatives across the country, as voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada this week voted to legalize the recreational use of the drug, while Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota approved medical marijuana. Arizona rejected a proposal on recreational weed, and a vote in Maine was too close to call. Together, the results were the nearest the U.S. has come to a national referendum on marijuana, which remains illegal for all uses under federal law. “These votes send a clear message to federal officials that it’s time to stop arresting and incarcerating marijuana users,” said Rob Kampia, head of the Marijuana Policy Project advocacy group. Tougher gun control was on the ballot in four states. Voters in California approved a proposition that will outlaw high-capacity magazines and require background checks to buy bullets. Washington State voted to give authorities the power to temporarily seize firearms, with a court order, from people deemed a threat. A proposal requiring universal background checks for private firearms sales was approved in Nevada and narrowly voted down in Maine.
California rejected an initiative that would have abolished its death penalty, but passed a proposition to expedite executions by speeding up appeals. Four states approved minimum-wage hikes. Washington will raise its minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020. Raises to $12 will be implemented in Arizona, Maine, and Colorado—which also became the sixth state to authorize physicians to assist in the voluntary death of terminally ill patients.
What the columnists said
It was the biggest year for ballot initiatives in a decade, said Lorraine Woellert in Politico.com. “In all, residents in 35 states sidestepped their elected officials to put 162 policy decisions directly to voters.” That surge was in part a product of the same popular discontent that powered Donald Trump’s outsider campaign. Fed up with political gridlock in Washington, D.C., activists and businesses took control of the policymaking process and forced hot-topic issues onto the ballot.
This election could go down as “a watershed” moment in the legalization of weed, said Katy Steinmetz in Time.com. More than half of the states now have comprehensive medical marijuana laws on the books, and roughly one-fifth of the population lives in a place where over-21s “can legally consume weed for fun.” And as big states like California embrace legal pot, pressure will increase on Congress to stop looking the other way and get proactive on drug reform—“perhaps by rescheduling marijuana as a substance with known medical uses.”
President Trump might kill that high, said Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post. Under President Obama, federal authorities have had a largely hands-off policy toward state-level marijuana legalization efforts. But the incoming Republican administration “could easily reverse that approach,” especially because Trump’s most likely appointees to senior Justice Department positions—former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—“are no friends of marijuana reform.”