In addition to electing Barack Obama president and carrying a wave of Dems to victory in Congress, voters in several states approved ballot initiatives decriminalizing marijuana, lifting limits on embryonic stem cell research, allowing doctor-assisted suicide—and nixed others that would have restricted abortions and provided rebates for fuel-efficient vehicles
In Massachusetts voters okayed a measure to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The new law, set to take effect in 30 days, requires anyone caught with that amount of weed to pay a $100 civil fine.
Michigan, meanwhile, became the 13th state to allow patients with an Rx to use pot to treat pain and nausea caused by cancer and other diseases.
"Tonight's results represent a sea change," Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a group working to decriminalize pot, declared when the votes were tallied. "Voters have spectacularly rejected eight years of the most intense government war on marijuana since the days of Reefer Madness (a 1936 propaganda film designed to scare teens out of using marijuana by depicting pot smokers as a bunch of deranged lunatics, which, decades later, became a cult hit).
Mirken hailed voters for refusing to cave in to pressure from Bush White House drug czar John Walters, who had campaigned against Proposal 1 in Michigan—and from district attorneys in Massachusetts who had warned of dire consequences if penalties for pot possession were reduced despite evidence to the contrary in 11 states with similar laws. "It may take a year or two, but the federal war on medical marijuana is dead. Finished. Over," MPP executive director Rob Kampia said in a statement.
Washingtonians made their state the second to approve doctor-assisted suicide. The "Death with Dignity" law allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill, competent adults given no more than six months to live who request and self-administer them. Neighboring Oregon is the only other state where assisted suicide is legal.
In Colorado voters shot down Amendment 48, the "Personhood Initiative," by a three-to-one margin. The measure would have defined human life as starting "from the moment of fertilization"—which in essence would have made abortion a crime and put the brakes on embryonic stem cell research there.
More than 7,000 Colorado doctors and 75 organizations opposed the initiative, saying it would have interfered with privacy and research.
"We're thrilled by such a resounding defeat of this measure," "No on 48" campaign director Fofi Mendez told the Denver Post. "It was a nonstarter here and it will be in other states."
In South Dakota, voters for the second time in two years rejected a ban on abortion except in cases in which the mother's life or health was in jeopardy and in cases of reported rape and incest. Backers of the initiative hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would eventually rule on the constitutionality of the law, potentially giving newly appointed conservative justices the chance to reverse Roe v. Wade.
And California residents gave a thumbs-down to a ballot initiative that would have amended that state's constitution to require parental notification and a 48-hour waiting period after notification before a minor could get an abortion.
In Michigan voters said "yes" to an initiative allowing limited embryonic stem cell research, which has taken a beating during the Bush administration. President Bush limited federal funding to research on 21 lines of embryonic stem cells created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, many of which have been compromised. Subsequently, he thwarted with his veto pen congressional attempts to allow research on stem cells taken from frozen embryos at in vitro clinics with the approval of donors who planned to discard them. Scientists, including Elias Zerhouni, Bush's former chief of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, have called for the ban to be lifted so that they can explore the potential of these cells as therapies for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer as well as spinal injuries.
In twin victories for animal rights activists: Massachusetts residents approved a measure banning commercial dog racing and Californians passed an initiative that will establish minimum living space for farm animals, including hens, pigs and calves, which allows them to spread their wings (or legs), stand up, lie down and turn around.
Two alternative-energy initiatives in California were defeated in the face of opposition from a wide swath of enviro groups and lawmakers, who warned they could slow the adoption of wind and solar power. The measures went down despite recent polling that suggested one of them, Proposition 10, had a shot. That measure, known as "Big Natural Gas," would have used most of a $5-billion bond as rebates for consumers of natural gas and fuel-efficient vehicles. The other initiative, Proposition 7 (aka "Big Solar"), would have required utilities to get half of their energy from renewable resources by 2025.
In Missouri, voters approved a requirement that investor-owned utilities buy or produce 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. But a proposal failed in Colorado that would have raised taxes on the oil and gas industry and used some of the income to fund college scholarships and renewable energy schemes.—with Jordan Lite