Marijuana and same-sex marriage win big in ballot measures

November 7, 2012

A medical marijuana provider in Israel turns keys into dimes / (Dan Balilty, AP)

Given the relative stasis in the presidential and Congressional election results, perhaps the most exciting news last night was at the level of state ballot initiatives. They ran the gamut from allowing same-sex marriage to banning same-sex marriage, from raising taxes to banning tax increases, etc. Here's what won, what lost and by how much:

Marijuana wins big

Marijuana legalization referenda won big in Colorado (with 54.5 percent supporting at last tally) and Washington (55.4 percent) but fell short in Oregon, trailing by about 10 points at press. Massachusetts, which has already decriminalized recreational use of marijuana, passed an initiative fully legalizing medical use.

As Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff explained the other day, this sets up a confrontation between the Colorado and Washington state governments and the Department of Justice, and in particular the Drug Enforcement Agency. Marijuana is still illegal in the United States — a Schedule I substance, with no permitted medical use — and federal law trumps state law. But it could be embarrassing for the DEA to go against the wishes of the states' voters.

Same-sex marriage runs the table

Four states considered same-sex marriage ballot referenda on Tuesday, and at least three of them ended up siding with gay rights advocates on the issue. In Maryland, voters ratified the same-sex marriage law signed earlier in the year in that state; a measure to legalize same-sex marriage was leaning ahead in Washington state as of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Maine reversed a 2009 vote that prevented same-sex marriage from being legalized and Minnesota rejected a state constitutional amendment banning it. That means that nine states (Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland and Washington) and DC now allow gay, lesbian, and bi couples to marry.

People hate taxes - but they also don't?

New Hampshire, which, alone with Alaska (which has considerable revenue from oil), has no income or sales taxes, voted to codify a ban on taxes on personal income into constitution, with 57 percent of voters backing the amendment. However, the measure fell short of the two-thirds majority required for passage. Three measures in Florida that would cut taxes for veterans, their surviving spouses, and low-income seniors appear to have passed

Meanwhile, California passed a measure backed by Gov. Jerry Brown that raises the sales tax by 0.25 percent, as well as the income tax for high earners. This prevents automatic cuts totaling $6 billion that would have been triggered if the measure had failed. Michigan rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required a two-thirds supermajority of the legislature to raise taxes. South Dakota voters, however, rejected a move to raise the state's sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent, with half of the proceeds going to education and the other half to Medicaid.

Obamacare is protested, but nothing really changes

Voters in Wyoming, Alabama and Montana all passed amendments stating that residents have the right to decide if they want health insurance. That's trumped by the federal Affordable Care Act but registers as a symbolic protest against the law. A similar measure failed in Florida.

More consequentially, Missouri passed an amendment that prohibits the state from setting up a health exchange. That means that the federal government will have to set up the marketplace, where Missourians can use federal subsidies, in that state.

Misc.

California voters also rejected a ballot measure meant to curb political spending by unions, one that would have repealed the death penalty and another that would have required genetically-modified organisms to be labeled as such. But they approved a measure that amends the state's aggressive "three strikes law" so that only violent offenders get life in jail, and another on human trafficking that sex worker advocates fear will hurt more than it helps.

A referendum in Alabama to remove language endorsing segregation of whites and blacks from the state's constitution failed by a wide margin.

Florida voters rejected an amendment restricting the use of public funds for abortions, though it's doubtful it would have had much of an effect if passed.

Maryland approved an amendment that will allow a casino to be built in Prince George's County, near Washington.

South Dakota voters rejected a proposal for performance bonuses for teachers, as well as weaker teacher tenure, proposed by the state's teachers union.

Michigan rejected measures that would have enshrined collective bargaining rights and a renewable energy standard into the state constitution.

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Sarah Kliff | November 7, 2012