PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Voters in Oregon and the District of Columbia legalized the use of recreational pot, elating marijuana activists who hope to extend their winning streak across the country.
Oregon will join the company of Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved the recreational use of marijuana two years ago. The District of Columbia is on the same path unless Congress, which has review power, blocks the move.
Another marijuana-legalization measure in Alaska was maintaining a steady lead in early returns.
Other volatile issues on state ballots on Tuesday include gambling and abortion. Voters in Washington state, faced with two competing measures on gun sales, approved an expansion of background checks. And several states including Arkansas and South Dakota approved minimum wage increases.
The District of Columbia’s marijuana measure would make it legal to possess up to two ounces 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. The state’s 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.
“The criminal justice system is getting bogged down by marijuana use, and a lot of the people who use marijuana aren’t criminals,” said Gary Fulwood, a support staffer for the city’s fire and EMS department who voted for the initiative. “I don’t see it being any worse than alcohol.”
In Florida, a measure that would have allowed marijuana use for medical reasons fell short of the 60 percent approval to pass; near-complete returns showed it getting about 57 percent of the vote. Twenty-three states allow medical marijuana.
Some of the other questions before voters Tuesday:
In Colorado and North Dakota, voters 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 four states approved increases in the state minimum wage. In Arkansas, it will rise from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, in Nebraska from $7.25 to $9 and in South Dakota from $7.25 to $8.50. In Alaska, it will increase $2 an hour to $9.75 in 2016.
In Washington state, voters approved a measure to expand background checks on gun sales and transfers; the checks will extended to private transactions and many loans and gifts. The 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.
Massachusetts voters approved a measure that supporters say will establish the nation’s strongest requirement for providing paid sick time to workers. Workers will be able to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time in a given year, earning one hour for every 30 hours worked. Companies with 10 or fewer employees would be exempt.
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 misdemeanors 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. The proposal would have applied to raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering, but not apply to food served in restaurants.
A similar measure was too close to call early Wednesday 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.
Voters in Berkeley, California, became the first in the country to pass a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, heeding supporters who said the measure would fight obesity, diabetes and related diseases.
High-dollar advertising campaigns by the $76 billion U.S. soft-drink industry had defeated the proposal in more than 30 other cities and states in recent years, including San Francisco where voters on Tuesday rejected a soda tax.
Crary reported from New York, Duara from Portland, Oregon. Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.
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