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US voters get say on everything

November 5, 2014

Washington, DC, and Oregon have voted to legalize pot, but Florida rejected a ballot issue to allow medical marijuana. The herb was just one measure put directly to US voters at the state and local levels.

USA Legalisierung von Marihuana 04.11.2014
Image: picture alliance/ZUMA Press

Much of the talk that preceded and has followed the 2014 US midterm elections has focused on the makeup of the legislature: How much control would Republicans gain in a branch of government that has proved largely ineffective at passing laws over the past half decade? However, initiatives at the state and municipal levels annually allow citizens to act as parliamentarians and effect a host of new policies for public officials to implement. From whether a plant is recreational, medicinal or illegal to which surgeries or animal traps are to be allowed or forbidden, Americans across the 50 states had conflicting opinions on everything.

High and low

A Washington, DC, initiative to legalize marijuana passed 64 percent to 28, but faces congressional review; only the federal district, which approved medical pot in 2013 and decriminalized possession in July, carries such a municipal burden. In the state of Oregon, with about three-quarters of the vote tallied, 54 percent of voters favored legalizing marijuana, including retail sales.

Sixty percent was needed to make Florida the 25th state to approve medical marijuana, but only 57.6 percent came through: 42.4 percent decided to restrict the use of the drug to alleviate suffering in patients with conditions from cancer to AIDS to chronic pain. In the extreme opposite corner of the country, voters in the semidetached state of Alaska, which had previously approved medical marijuana, were leaning toward recreational use, 52 percent to 48 percent, with about two-fifths of the vote counted.

A modest increase

Alaskans were leaning even more heavily, by a measure of 68.65 percent to 31.35 percent, toward raising the state's minimum wage from $7.75 (6.20 euros) per hour to $9.75 (7.75 euros) by 2016. Down south in Arkansas, voters approved, 65 percent to 35 percent, an increase from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017.

In the Midwest, Illinois voters appeared en route to overwhelmingly, 66.5 percent to 33.5 percent, raising the minimum wage from the current $8.25 to $10 effective January 1, 2015. Nearby Nebraska has chosen, 59 percent to 41 percent, to boost its low statutory $7.25 to $9 by 2016. Even South Dakota, albeit by a narrower margin of 54 percent to 46 percent, will increase minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 by the end of the year and the lowest possible hourly rate of tipped employees from $2.13 to $4.25.

The issue was on several local ballots as well.

Check the label?

In recent years, voters in various states have had the opportunity to decide whether they would like their food labeled to advertise the use of genetically modified organisms, and, in 2014, with 77 percent of ballots counted, Oregonians gave the topic a lukewarm No: 51 percent to 49 percent. Coloradans were more steadfast against labeling of products for human consumption, deciding 67 percent to 33 percent that they would rather not know where their foods came from.

Barack Obama
GMO proved more popular than President Obama's DemocratsImage: picture alliance/abaca/O. Douliery

By another name

Frustrated by women's right to have an abortion, several ballots in US states in recent years have attempted to redetermine the definition of humanity with so-called personhood initiatives that would declare that life begins at the moment of conception. On Tuesday, Coloradans rejected that notion 64 percent to 36 percent, and North Dakotans gave their No to similar wording by the exact same margin. Tennesseans gave their state representatives new power to legislate abortion by a relatively narrow 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent.

With a bang

In the Southeast, Alabamans voted 72 percent to 28 percent to keep federal regulations and even international treaties from interfering with the right of state residents to bear arms. In the Northwest, Washingtonians voted 54.55 percent to 45.45 percent against a measure that would have limited the ability of the state government to regulate firearms.

Animal issues

Fish, fowl and furrier beasts may wish to steer clear of Alabama, which approved 80 percent to 20 percent residents' right to stalk woods and waterways for food and sport. Mississippi passed similar wording 88 percent to 12 percent. Hunting was not known to be under threat in either state ahead of the elections.

In Maine, voters rejected 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent any restrictions on the ways in which bears may be hunted and killed.

Arizona's particular rules

A state that repeatedly opposes the federal government on issues from immigration to anything else, Arizona chose 78 percent to 22 percent to allow critically ill patients to use experimental medications before they have received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. In fact, Arizonans voted 51 percent to 49 percent on Tuesday to allow legislators to go their own way on most issues, with Proposition 122: "Rejection of Federal Action."

mkg/es (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)