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

A third-party crew cut the Telus fiber line on Tuesday, Nov. 17, resulting in a nearly 24hr communications blackout for the Valley (Black Press Media)
Recent outage highlights vulnerabilites in local communication infrastructure

A third-party crew accidentally severed the cable on Highway 20, resulting in a valley-wide communications outage

The Bay Hotel burned to the ground last night (Christina Hoppe photo)
Bay Hotel burns to the ground in early morning fire

The building was abandoned and had been falling apart for years

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

So far Northern Lights Wildlife Society has received five grizzly bear cubs from Bella Coola this year (NLWS photo)
Another sow grizzly destroyed; two more cubs sent to Northern Lights Wildlife Society

A total of five grizzly bear cubs have been sent to Northern Lights Wildlife Society from Bella Coola

Logs are piled up at West Fraser Timber in Quesnel, B.C., on April 21, 2009. West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. has signed a deal to acquire Norbord Inc. in an all-stock transaction valued at $4.0 billion.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
West Fraser Timber to acquire Norbord in all-stock deal valued at $4B

Shareholders are being offered 0.675 of a West Fraser share for each Norbord share

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read