Several controversial state ballot initiatives were passed and blocked in Tuesday’s elections. Some may have a long way to go before coming law, though. One such initiative is the legalization of recreational marijuna, which passed in Washington state and Colorado. Sari Horwtiz described the difficulty this initiative is likely to face:
The approval of ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana use in Washington state and Colorado on Tuesday could set the stage for a significant legal battle with the Justice Department, one that may bring fresh scrutiny to federal drug policy.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department said it was reviewing the initiatives but would not comment further on how it would respond to the first attempt by any state to legalize marijuana for reasons other than medicinal purposes. A spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency said that its “enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”
The ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington state are a step beyond the measures that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in the District and 17 states, including Massachusetts, which passed such an initiative Tuesday.
In the run-up to the latest initiatives, the Justice Department was unusually muted about the possible conflicts between federal and state laws, even as former DEA officials called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to publicly oppose the measures.
On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signaled his awareness of the legal conflict with the Justice Department, cautioning voters that the marijuana initiative violates federal law.
“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.”
Colorado Amendment 64 allows individuals 21 and older to buy up to an ounce of marijuana at retail stores that are regulated. Possession of marijuana would be legal, although it would not be legal to use the drug publicly. Washington’s Initiative 502 is similar and allows adults 21 and older to buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; up to a pound of a marijuana-infused product, such as brownies; or up to 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids.
Same-sex marriage was also in the spotlight as several states voted on whether or not to allow it on the state level. According to Dylan Matthews:
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 D.C. now allow gay, lesbian, and bi couples to marry.
In Maryland, voters also passed a controversial measure that will expand gambling in the state. The Associated Press reports:
Gambling in Maryland will soon include table games like blackjack and a casino near the nation’s capital, after voters on Tuesday approved an expansion measure that generated the most expensive political advertising campaign in the state’s history.
In a year with a variety of high-profile ballot measures, Maryland voters also approved same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions and the state’s congressional redistricting map, which had been petitioned to the ballot by opponents.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the gambling question had 52 percent of the votes. The measure received an enormous amount of attention, largely because more than $90 million was spent on television and radio advertising.
Table games like craps and poker could begin early next year at Maryland’s three existing casinos and at two expected to be built later. Because the question also passed in Prince George’s County, a casino can also be built near the nation’s capital.
MGM Resorts International wants to build an $800 million casino near National Harbor. The Prince George’s County casino can’t open until 2016. The ballot question also reduces the tax rates paid by Maryland casinos to varying degrees, partly to make up for added competition from the added casino.
Gov. Martin O’Malley called a special session in August to consider the expansion. Lawmakers passed legislation that still needed voter approval.
Voters had a lot to say about the gambling question at the polls on Tuesday.
“Oh, my God, yes, they’ve got to bring them closer to me,” said Carolyn Barton, a retired medical assistant who voted in Hagerstown, adding that she and her husband Charles have made numerous trips to Las Vegas and neighboring states to gamble.
But there were plenty of opponents, as well, who expressed concerns about social ills and didn’t believe proceeds will go to benefit education in the state.
Saeed Roshan, an Iranian immigrant and registered Democrat, said he voted against the gambling question.
“In Iran, the gambler is called the loser,” Roshan, of Rockville, said. “The gambling brings the prostitution, brings the thieves.”