Oregon voters rejected a broad legalization of marijuana Tuesday, but Washington and Colorado went the other way, granting historic freedoms to buy and use pot. Meanwhile, in Washington and two other states, voters were giving their blessing to same-sex marriages, marking a big leap forward for gay rights. Although a handful of states recognize marriage between homosexual couples, no state had ever approved it outright through a public vote.
Combined, the results were ground-shaking, reflective of a new attitude toward the role of government and personal freedoms. “It’s an absolutely huge message that the citizens are sending to the federal government,” said Anthony Martinelli, spokesman for Sensible Washington, which promoted the state’s marijuana measure. “We’re stating that our cannabis policy has failed beyond any meaning of the word.”
In addition to Washington, where Referendum 74 was leading by just under 4 percentage points, Maine and Maryland were passing same-sex marriage measures. In Minnesota, a measure to ban same-sex marriages was too close to call. Gay rights groups considered the results a huge victory for the cause. “That’s amazing,” said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, when she heard the results. “It’s a further indication that this country and our state are moving forward on this issue.
Frazzini also noted that an openly gay senator was elected in Wisconsin and that a president who supports same-sex marriage was re-elected. Basic Rights Oregon, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, got some flak for not sponsoring a marriage measure this year. Frazzini said it’s too soon to say whether they’ll try in 2014. “We have a lot to digest from tonight,” she said. “We need some time to understand the landscape.”
Oregon also soundly rejected an effort to expand gambling by allowing a private casino development outside Portland. Gambling expansion measures in Rhode Island and Maryland were winning. If the marriage, marijuana and pro-gambling votes hold up in other states, it could be a national red-letter day for libertarian-minded voters who want more elbow room to decide what to do with their private lives. The measures would amount to a dramatic rewrite of long-standing social policy.
Oregon’s rejection of legalized marijuana and private casinos, on the other hand, could mark the state as increasingly provincial and resistant to the kind of change that once gave it maverick status. “We are starting to look a little stodgy, aren’t we?” said Paul Gronke, political science professor at Reed College. One reason may be that Oregon is still dusting itself off from the recession and is wary about change, he said. “It tends to take a little of the sheen off being a maverick.”
Oregon’s Measure 80, which would have allowed private manufacturing, possession and use of marijuana, trailed by 10 percentage points. The measure, considered the least restrictive of the three, also would have set up an Oregon Cannabis Commission that would license, sell and tax marijuana through a network of state-run stores, much like liquor is sold in the state.
Supporters said it would have generated revenue for the state and saved money by reducing the amount of police time and jail space devoted to marijuana possession crimes. Opponents, mostly sheriffs and district attorneys in the state, said the measure would have led to more intoxicated driving and other problems associated with freely accessible pot. Paul Stanford, the main force behind Oregon’s measure, said it failed not because of Oregon’s attitude toward marijuana but because of a lack of money and bad press.
“We’re really proud of what happened in Washington state and Colorado,” Stanford said. He said he expects a number of marijuana legalization measures to surface when the Legislature convenes in February. “If we don’t win in the Legislature, we’ll be back with another ballot measure in 2014,” he said. Washington’s Initiative 502 sets up a state-licensed system for growing, producing and selling marijuana to adults over 21. But it would limit personal possession to up to an ounce and does not permit residents to grow their own crops.
The measure was leading 55 percent to 45 percent late Tuesday. Despite the big margin, supporters expect a legal fight before it actually takes effect. Federal laws prohibit marijuana possession and use. “Based on the federal conflict, it’s likely the federal government will take us to court,” said Martinelli, the campaign spokesman. Under the measure, possession of up to an ounce of pot becomes legal on Dec. 6. Because of the potential lawsuit and other logistics, he predicted it would be at least a year before Washington residents could start buying marijuana at state-licensed stores.
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