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Legal marijuana, same-sex marriage advanced by U.S. voters

story by Alison Vekshin
Bloomberg News

U.S. voters legalized recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and allowed same-sex marriage in Maine and Maryland.

The Washington and Colorado measures permit possession of one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana. Approval of the Maine and Maryland same-sex marriage initiatives mark the initial endorsement the unions have received at the ballot box in the U.S.

“For the first time, voters in Maine and Maryland voted to allow loving couples to make lifelong commitments through marriage,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based group that supports equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, said in a statement.

The measures were among 176 in 38 states yesterday (Nov. 6). Voters from San Francisco to Miami also weighed proposals to require labeling of genetically-modified food, defy President Barack Obama’s health-care law and increase sales taxes to support schools.

Besides Washington and Colorado, four other states had marijuana proposals on their ballots, seeking to build on measures that allow it for medical purposes in one-third of U.S. states. Oregon voters rejected a measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Massachusetts voters approved use of medical marijuana, while Arkansas voters rejected it. In Montana, voters were leaning toward affirming a 2011 law that would scale back a 2004 initiative legalizing medical marijuana. With 53% of precincts reporting, 56.5% were in favor, while 43.5% of voters opposed the change, according to the Associated Press.

California, whose voters rejected a measure to legalize recreational use in 2010, was the first state to allow medical use in 1996. It’s already permitted in 17 states and the District of Columbia

Four states weighed same-sex marriage propositions. Maine became the first state to legalize it without initial action by a court or state lawmakers. Maryland residents decided to affirm a state law approved this year allowing such unions. A similar measure in Washington was winning support from 51.8% of voters, compared with 48.2% opposed, with 51% of precincts reporting, according to the AP. Minnesota voters decided not to amend their constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
To date, same-sex marriage has become legal only as a result of legislation or court rulings in New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia. Obama this year became the first sitting president to endorse such marriages.

In Massachusetts, residents were leaning toward rejecting a measure to allow physicians licensed there to prescribe medication to end the life of a terminally ill patient at that person’s request. With 93% of precincts reporting, 50.7% of voters opposed the idea, while 49.3% favored it, according to the AP. The practice is legal in Washington, Oregon and Montana.

Voters in Alabama, Wyoming and Montana approved propositions to prevent people from being required to get health insurance, while Florida voters rejected the idea. The measures are intended to block implementation of Obama’s health-care law, which aims to create the largest expansion of coverage since Medicare in 1965.

TAX PROPOSALS
U.S. ballot measures featured 31 tax-related proposals, including two competing initiatives in California aimed at raising money for schools. Proposition 30, offered by Gov. Jerry Brown, a 74-year-old Democrat, would temporarily boost the state sales tax to 7.5% from 7.25% and raise the levy on income starting at $250,000. Support for the measure was outweighing opposition, with 52.6% of voters in favor of Brown’s plan, with 66% of precincts reporting, according to the AP.

Proposition 38, a proposal backed by Los Angeles attorney Molly Munger, would have raised personal income taxes for 12 years. The rates would have risen on a scale from 0.4% for people earning more than $7,316 a year to 2.2% for those making more than $2.5 million. Voters rejected Munger’s measure.

“Transformational change takes time and we are committed to staying the course until our state truly does tackle this school-funding crisis,” Munger said yesterday in a statement. “So the fight will continue.”

Munger, whose father Charles Munger is vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., had spent $44.1 million to support her plan, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, Calif.

DEATH PENALTY
A proposal to abolish the death penalty in California, changing the maximum sentence to life without parole, was trailing with opponents ahead of supporters 53.7% to 46.3%, with 66% of precincts counted, according to the AP.

A California proposal to require labeling of genetically modified foods was also trailing, with 54.3% against it and 45.7% in favor, with 66% of precincts counted, the AP said.
It has drawn $45.6 million in contributions from companies opposing the measure. They include Monsanto Co., the world’s biggest seed producer; DuPont Co., the biggest U.S. chemical maker by sales; PepsiCo Inc., the world’s largest snack-food maker, and Coca-Cola Co., according to MapLight.

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PARTISAN PRIMARIES
Arizona voters, who considered nine ballot propositions, rejected a measure to follow California’s lead in scrapping partisan primaries for all federal, state and local offices except the presidency. In the so-called “top two” primary election, candidates from all parties compete in a primary with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

Arizona residents rejected a constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the Legislature to assert the state’s sovereign control over its air, water, land and other resources. The proposal was aimed at invalidating U.S. environmental laws in the state and take back federally controlled lands, including national parks.

Arizona voters also rejected a measure to renew a one-cent sales tax, with the money mostly dedicated to education. The tax would have permanently raised the state levy on purchases to 6.6%, replacing a temporary one-cent sales tax approved by voters in March 2010 that will expire May 31.

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