American voters widely backed loosening of marijuana laws across the country on Tuesday, permitting recreational use on both coasts, and dramatically expanding the number of people who can use pot as medicine or just for fun.
"This is the most important moment in the history of the marijuana legalization movement," said Tom Angell, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Majority.
California and Massachusetts voters approved recreational legalization, while voters in Maine and Nevada also appeared likely to pass it, based on initial returns. Arizona voters appeared to have rejected recreational legalization. On the medical side, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota all voted in favor of medical cannabis, and Montana appeared likely to also approve it.
If those results hold, 29 states will now permit cannabis use for certain medical conditions, including cancer and HIV, and eight will permit recreational use, as does the District of Columbia.
“Most voters do not think otherwise law-abiding citizens should be criminalized for using a product that is much safer than alcohol," said Rob Kampia, the executive director of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "There is a general consensus that law enforcement should be fighting serious crimes rather than enforcing failed and deeply unpopular policies.”
Legalization skeptics said they were "disappointed" in the results and planned to keep pushing for restrictions aimed at keeping pot out of the hands of kids.
Experts say the support for both medical and recreational marijuana will likely increase pressure on federal lawmakers to change their treatment of cannabis.
Elsewhere across the country, voters are also deciding whether to mandate higher minimum wages and require performers in California's pornography industry to use condoms.
Ballot initiatives can give citizens the ability to bypass their elected officials and instead make their case directly to voters, or they can be placed on the ballot by lawmakers seeking to amend the state constitution. In many cases, they permit voters to directly set specific policy when lawmakers can't, or won't, act.