USA TODAY - 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.
Marijuana issues have drawn the most attention, with nine states deciding whether to loosen the rules governing either recreational or medical cannabis use.Legalization advocates say the strong wins across the country on Tuesday will increase pressure on Congress to reconsider how the federal government treats this Schedule 1 illegal drug, including access to banking.
Legalization advocates credit Colorado and Washington, the first two states to permit recreational marijuana sales, with helping lay the groundwork for what they expected to be a series of victories across the country.
Nebraksa and Oklahoma voters endorsed death-penalty measures, while voters in California were still considering whether to ban it entirely. Nebraska's vote came after lawmakers repealed the state's death penalty in 2015; Tuesday's vote restores it.
Colorado voters approved their minimum-wage measure, and Maine and Arizona were also considering similar plans, raising the wage to $12 by 2020. In Washington, the pay floor would climb from $9.47 to $13.50 over the next four years.
Colorado's voters overhwelmingly endorsed a plan permitting residents to take their own lives, in consultation with two doctors. Colorado is now the sixth state with some form of assisted suicide.
In a uniquely California move, voters are considering whether to strengthen existing rules requiring actors wear condoms in adult films. The state's workplace safety enforcement agency, Cal-OSHA, is already charged with making sure actors wear condoms in adult films for their own protection. Los Angeles voters approved a measure requiring condom use in 2012.
Proposition 60 backers say enforcement of that law isn't vigorous enough because the agency only acts on complaints. Only four citations were issued in 2014 and 2015, the state's legislative analyst says. The debate focuses attention on Southern California's role as traditional home to the porn industry, an industry that generates millions, if not billions of dollars, although estimates are hard to come by. Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, a section of the city northwest of downtown, has sometimes been called "porn valley" because so many adult film production companies have set up shop there.
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