FILE - In this June 10, 2020, file photo, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, left, receives congratulations from fellow Assembly members Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, center, and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, after the Assembly approved her measure to place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot to let voters decide if the state should overturn its ban on affirmative action programs, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

FILE - In this June 10, 2020, file photo, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, left, receives congratulations from fellow Assembly members Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, center, and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, after the Assembly approved her measure to place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot to let voters decide if the state should overturn its ban on affirmative action programs, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Push to relax drug laws gains big victories on state ballots

Oregon voters also approved a measure making the state the first to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms

A nationwide push to relax drug laws took a significant step forward Tuesday as more states legalized marijuana for adults and voters made Oregon the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

The drug measures were among 120 proposed state laws and constitutional amendments that were on the ballot in 32 states. They touched on an array of issues that have roiled politics in recent years — voting rights, racial inequalities, abortion, taxes and education, to name a few.

But none directly dealt with the dominant theme of 2020 — the coronavirus pandemic. That’s because the process to put measures on the ballot began, in most cases, before the virus surged to the forefront.

The Oregon drug initiative will allow people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs to avoid going to trial, and possible jail time, by paying a $100 fine and attending an addiction recovery program. The treatment centres will be funded by revenues from legalized marijuana, which was approved in Oregon several years ago.

“Today’s victory is a landmark declaration that the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which backed the measure.

The proposal was endorsed by the Oregon Democratic Party, as well as some nurses and physician associations. The Oregon Republican Party had denounced the drug decriminalization measure as radical, and some prosecutors called it reckless.

Oregon voters also approved a measure making the state the first to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms.

Voters in New Jersey and Arizona approved measures legalizing marijuana for adults age 21 and older. In New Jersey, the Legislature now will have to pass another measure setting up the new marijuana marketplace. The Arizona measure also allows people convicted of certain marijuana crimes to seek expungement of their records. Passage signalled a change of attitudes, after Arizona voters there narrowly defeated a legal pot proposal in 2016.

Recreational marijuana measures also were ahead in the polls in Montana and narrowly leading in South Dakota. Separate medical marijuana initiatives passed in South Dakota and Mississippi.

A decade ago, recreational marijuana was illegal in all 50 states. Voters allowed it in Colorado and Washington in 2012, sparking a movement that already included 11 states and Washington, D.C., heading into Tuesday’s elections. Supporters hope additional victories, especially in conservative states, could build pressure for Congress to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Two states considered anti-abortion amendments with different results.

Louisiana voters passed a measure asserting there is no state constitutional right to abortion — something that could come into play if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

In Colorado, by contrast, voters defeated a measure to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks unless the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Previous Colorado ballot initiatives to limit abortion also failed in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Several states also were considering measures affecting voting rights.

Virginia voters passed a constitutional amendment taking power away from members of the Democratic-led Legislature to draw voting districts for themselves and members of Congress based on census results. It instead will create a bipartisan commission of lawmakers and citizens to develop a redistricting plan that the Legislature could approve or reject, but not change.

Virginia is the sixth state in the past two general election cycles to pass measures intended to prevent gerrymandering — a process in which politicians draw voting districts to benefit themselves or their political parties. Voters in Missouri, which passed a redistricting reform measure in 2018, voted Tuesday on whether to roll back key parts of it before it can be used next year.

The Missouri measure, which remained undecided in a close vote, would repeal a nationally unique model using a nonpartisan demographer to draw state House and Senate districts to achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.” Republicans who control the Legislature put forth a new ballot measure this year that would return redistricting duties to a pair of bipartisan commissions and drop “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” to the end of the criteria.

In Florida, voters approved a measure gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The measure puts Florida in line with at least seven other states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — and Washington, D.C., which already have enacted laws to gradually boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In Mississippi, voters approved a proposal for a new state flag with a magnolia design. The vote came after legislators in June ended the use of a flag bearing a Confederate battle emblem. In Rhode Island, whose official name is “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” residents in a close vote were deciding whether to eliminate the final three words, which some say evoke a legacy of slavery.

Tax proposals were on the ballot in more than a dozen states. Tobacco tax hikes passed in Colorado and Oregon. Colorado voters also approved a slight income tax cut. Still undecided were a proposed property tax increase on California businesses and higher income taxes on the wealthy in Illinois and Arizona. The additional tax revenue in Arizona would fund pay raises for teachers and other school personnel.

Another of the many California ballot issues would repeal a 1996 initiative that prohibits affirmative action programs granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, colour, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education or contracting.

David A. Lieb, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

U.S. election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton Alta, on Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Health Services head sorry for glitches in vaccine booking system for seniors

AHS president said technical issues have been fixed and a virtual waiting room is in place

Vandalism is shown on Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s constituency office in Edmonton in this handout photo on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly condemned vandalism at an Opposition legislature member Janis Irwin’s Edmonton office after the MLA posted pictures showing her front window spray-painted with the words “Antifa Liar.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Janis Irwin *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

Edmonton MLA Janis Irwin posted pictures showing the front window spray-painted with the words ‘Antifa Liar’

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Trial date for jailed Alberta pastor charged with breaking COVID-19 health orders

The court says it will reconvene with lawyers on March 5 for a case management plan by teleconference

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Emily Keeping of Wetaskiwin, Alta., was last seen at 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin. Supplied/ Wetaskiwin RCMP.
UPDATE: Wetaskiwin RCMP seek assistance in locating missing 11-year-old

Emily Keeping was last seen on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin.

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Most Read