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Sunday, May 24, 2015
- In addition to the victories of the Democratic Party in retaining the presidency and the U.S. Senate, and of the Republican Party in retaining the U.S. House, there were major issue-related victories in Tuesday’s election whose common threads are personal liberty and human rights.
Chief among these was the approval of state-level referendums for the complete legalisation of marijuana and in support of same-sex marriage.
Comparisons to alcohol prohibition
Colorado and Washington made history by being the first two states to completely legalise marijuana since the prohibition of marijuana began in the U.S. in 1937.
In Colorado, voters approved Amendment 64, with 55 percent of voters in favour. In Washington, voters approved Initiative Measure No. 202, with 55 percent of voters in favour.
Both measures legalise up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use for adults 21 and over, and allow for marijuana to be taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol.
Colorado’s measure allows for the licensing of cultivation and product-manufacturing facilities.
Colorado estimates the measure will raise between four million and 22 million dollars in sales tax revenue and licensing fees annually for the state. The first 40 million dollars of any such funds each year will now go towards school construction.
Oregon voters, however, rejected a similar measure, with only 44 percent in favour.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts became the eighteenth U.S. state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to allow medical marijuana.
Arkansas voters, however, narrowly rejected a similar medical marijuana measure, with only 48 percent in favour. Had the measure passed, Arkansas would have been the first state in the U.S. South to allow for medical marijuana.
The victories in Colorado and Washington are “very similar to when New York repealed their state alcohol prohibition and they did that prior to the federal government lifting their prohibition as well,” Robert Capecchi, legislative policy analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, told IPS.
Capecchi attributed the shift in public opinion to “a shift in the electorate”, noting that older voters tend to oppose marijuana legalisation. “Older voters, and not to put it too darkly, but they die off,” Capecchi said.
“We got lots of support from younger voters and we’ve seen the Baby Boom generation as well, they’ve grown up with it in the 1960s, 1970s. In the grand scheme of things, people are deciding marijuana is not as injurious as federal and state governments want them to believe. It’s safer than alcohol. You cannot overdose on marijuana,” he said.
“The first states to change their laws are always the hardest. Now we’ve got two states whose voters have pretty overwhelmingly supported reform. I think a lot of other states will see that and have the political courage to change their laws as well,” Capecchi said.
One possibility might be that newly-reelected President Barack Obama will instruct the U.S. Department of Justice to enjoin Colorado and Washington from implementing the distribution components of its legislation.
However, if that happens, individuals in Colorado and Washington will still be protected from civil or criminal penalties under their respective state laws for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana. The vast majority of marijuana-related prosecutions occur at the state, not the federal level, meaning that most citizens of Colorado and Washington will be protected.
The 18 states with medical marijuana now include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Fourteen states also have decriminalised marijuana, which means marijuana possession in those states still carries of a civil penalty, not a criminal penalty.
Going forward, MPP is continuing to push towards its 25 by 2014 plan, which is to have medical marijuana in at least half of U.S. states by 2014.
Next year, MPP plans to focus on promoting legislative initiatives to provide for legalisation of marijuana in Rhode Island; to decriminalise marijuana in Vermont; and to provide for medical marijuana in Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New York.
A “slam-dunk” for gay rights
Also during Tuesday’s election, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first three states to pass ballot initiatives approving same-sex marriage. And Minnesota rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“This is a slam dunk for the LGBT movement, for marriage equality. We had four significant measures on ballots in four states across the country, and we won every single one of them. They mean different things, but the reality is we won every single one of them,” Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told IPS.
“This is such a historic moment – I don’t think we can fully grasp the impact right now. The ballot measures is just one aspect. There’s the most pro-LGBT president reelected, we’ve got the first lesbian [U.S.] senator in Tammy Baldwin,” Nipper said, referring to the newly reelected Democrat from Wisconsin.
Maine, Maryland, and Washington are the first states to use the ballot initiative process to affirmatively approve of same-sex marriage.
Maine voters approved Question 1, with 53 percent in favour. The question asked voters, “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
Maryland voters approved Question 6, with 52 percent in favour. And Washington approved Referendum 74, with 52 percent in favour. Unlike in Maine, the referendums in both Maryland and Washington were to affirm previous legislative approval of same-sex marriage.
Maine, Maryland, and Washington now join six other states – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont – in allowing same-sex couples to marry. In those states, same-sex marriage has become legal as a result of court rulings or legislative action.