Royal Oak Tribune

Push to relax drug laws gains big victories on state ballots

- By David A. Lieb Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky contribute­d to this report.

A nationwide push to relax drug laws took a significan­t step forward Tuesday as five more states legalized marijuana for adults and voters made Oregon the first state to decriminal­ize the possession of small amounts of street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphet­amine.

The drug measures were among 120 proposed state laws and constituti­onal amendments that were on the ballot in 32 states. They touched on an array of issues that have roiled politics in recent years — voting rights, racial inequaliti­es, abortion, taxes and education, to name a few.

But none directly dealt with the dominant theme of 2020 — the coronaviru­s pandemic. That’s because the process to put measures on the ballot began, in most cases, before the virus surged to the forefront.

The Oregon drug initiative will allow people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs to avoid going to trial, and possible jail time, by paying a $100 fine and attending an addiction recovery program. The treatment centers will be funded by revenues from legalized marijuana, which was approved in Oregon several years ago.

“Today’s victory is a landmark declaratio­n that the time has come to stop criminaliz­ing people for drug use,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which backed the measure.

The proposal was endorsed by the Oregon Democratic Party, as well as some nurses and physician associatio­ns. The Oregon Republican Party had denounced the drug decriminal­ization measure as radical, and some prosecutor­s called it reckless.

Oregon voters also approved a measure making the state the first to legalize the therapeuti­c use of psychedeli­c mushrooms.

Voters in New Jersey and Arizona approved measures legalizing marijuana for adults age 21 and older. In New Jersey, the Legislatur­e now will have to pass another measure setting up the new marijuana marketplac­e. The Arizona measure also allows people convicted of certain marijuana crimes to seek expungemen­t of their records. The passage of the measure signaled a change of attitudes, after Arizona voters narrowly defeated a legal pot proposal in 2016.

South Dakota on Tuesday became the first state where voters authorized both recreation­al marijuana and medical marijuana via two separate initiative­s in the same election. The legalizati­on of recreation­al marijuana was approved by voters in Montana, and medical marijuana won approval in Mississipp­i.

A decade ago, recreation­al marijuana was illegal in all 50 states. Voters allowed it in Colorado and Washington in 2012, sparking a movement that already included 11 states and Washington, D.C., heading into Tuesday’s elections. Supporters hope additional victories, especially in conservati­ve states, could build pressure for Congress to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Two states considered antiaborti­on amendments with different results.

Louisiana voters passed a measure asserting there is no state constituti­onal right to abortion — something that could come into play if the U. S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

In Colorado, by contrast, voters defeated a measure to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks unless the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Previous Colorado ballot initiative­s to limit abortion also failed in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Several states considered measures affecting voting rights.

Virginia voters passed a constituti­onal amendment taking power away from members of the Democratic-led Legislatur­e to draw voting districts for themselves and members of Congress based on census results. It instead will create a bipartisan commission of lawmakers and citizens to develop a redistrict­ing plan that the Legislatur­e could approve or reject, but not change.

Virginia is the sixth state in the past two general election cycles to pass measures intended to prevent gerrymande­ring — a process in which politician­s draw voting districts to benefit themselves or their political parties.

Voters in Missouri, who passed a redistrict­ing reform measure in 2018, decided Tuesday to roll back key parts of it before it could be used next year. They passed a measure placed on the ballot by the Republican-led Legislatur­e to repeal a nationally unique model that would have used a nonpartisa­n demographe­r to draw state House and Senate districts to achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiv­eness.” The measure instead returns those duties to bipartisan commission­s and drops “partisan fairness” and “competitiv­eness” to the end of the priority list.

In Florida, voters approved a measure gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The measure puts Florida in line with at least seven other states — California, Connecticu­t, Illinois, Maryland, Massachu

setts, New Jersey and New York — and Washington, D.C., which already have enacted laws to gradually boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In Mississipp­i, voters approved a proposal for a new state flag with a magnolia design. The vote came after legislator­s in June ended the use of a flag bearing a Confederat­e battle emblem. In Rhode Island, whose official name is “Rhode Island and Providence Plantation­s,” a proposal was leading to eliminate the final three words, which some say evoke a legacy of slavery.

Tax proposals were on the ballot in more than a dozen states. Tobacco tax hikes passed in Colorado and Oregon. Colorado voters also approved a slight income tax cut. Proposals to charge higher income taxes on the wealthy were trailing in Illinois but leading in Arizona, where the new revenue would fund pay raises for teachers and other school personnel. A California property tax increase on businesses remained close.

In California, Uber, Lyft and other app- based ride- hailing and delivery services prevailed in their expensive fight to keep drivers classified as independen­t contractor­s. The ballot initiative pitted the powerhouse­s of the so-called gig economy, including DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart, against labor unions. It was the most expensive California ballot measure ever — more than $220 million was spent, most by the gig companies.

The measure creates an exemption to a state law that would have made drivers eligible for benefits that come with being company employees. San Francisco-based Uber and Lyft had threatened to pull out of California if they lost.

Among the many California ballot proposals was one to repeal a 1996 initiative that prohibits affirmativ­e action programs granting preferenti­al treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education or contractin­g. It was trailing in the polls.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 27 file photo, Sheldon Smith, center, holds the photograph­s of his children Deshawn Smith, 11, left, and Trinitee Smith, 13, both suffering from sickle cell anemia, during an Initiative 65 rally in Ridgeland, Miss. Smith and his wife Keishawna Smith believe their children would benefit from medical marijuana treatment for pain management. Initiative 65 would amend the Mississipp­i Constituti­on to allow the prescripti­on by a doctor of up to 5 ounces (142 grams) of marijuana per month for people who suffer from more than 20 medical conditions. The state lawmakers are offering a more restrictiv­e measure as an alternativ­e.
ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 27 file photo, Sheldon Smith, center, holds the photograph­s of his children Deshawn Smith, 11, left, and Trinitee Smith, 13, both suffering from sickle cell anemia, during an Initiative 65 rally in Ridgeland, Miss. Smith and his wife Keishawna Smith believe their children would benefit from medical marijuana treatment for pain management. Initiative 65 would amend the Mississipp­i Constituti­on to allow the prescripti­on by a doctor of up to 5 ounces (142 grams) of marijuana per month for people who suffer from more than 20 medical conditions. The state lawmakers are offering a more restrictiv­e measure as an alternativ­e.

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