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Ballot Initiatives See Advocates of Marijuana, Gay Rights Gain Ground

FILE - A young man lights a marijuana cigarette during a demonstration demanding a new law on cannabis in Montevideo, May 8, 2013.

FILE - A young man lights a marijuana cigarette during a demonstration demanding a new law on cannabis in Montevideo, May 8, 2013.

Analysts say the results of this week's U.S. state ballot measures indicate Americans are feeling more at ease about accepting a limited use of marijuana.

Voters in the northeastern city of Portland, Maine voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Meanwhile, in three cities in Michigan, voters approved measures offering some legal protection to users of small amounts of the drug.

In Colorado, voters legalized recreational marijuana last year. This time around, they voted to add a 25 percent sales tax, with some of the funds going to help schools.

Brad Ketcher is an attorney with the Ballot Measure Group, a national law firm that concentrates on state and local ballot initiatives. He says the votes in those three states are an indication of changes in national sentiment about marijuana use.

"I think there is a creeping liberalization of marijuana laws occurring across the country. I think sometimes politicians and legislative bodies are a little reluctant to embrace that quickly because of a fear of backlash from conservatives or backlash from law enforcement, but the voters do not seem to share that same concern," said Ketcher.

Brookings Institution analyst Stephen Hess says the votes could indicate a trend.

"It seemed to be a pro-marijuana vote. Of course, it is a big country and there were only three issues, but they all went the way that the marijuana industry wanted them to go," said Hess.

According to the Office of National Drug Control policy, 20 states and the District of Colombia have passed laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana.

Other issues were on ballots Tuesday as well. Voters in Royal Oak, Michigan joined other communities that have made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal.

The polling took place a day after the U.S. Senate voted to begin debate on a major gay rights bill.

Meanwhile, Colorado voters voted against a hefty tax increase to fund schools and Washington state voters turned down a measure requiring mandatory labeling for genetically engineered food.

Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute says he sees a trend.

"The common thread that goes through most of these different ballot proposals in different states is a libertarian thread. It is the idea of people being free to do things that they want to do, whether it is with marijuana, whether it is with gay rights or same sex marriage, whether it is with avoiding taxes or environmental restrictions," said Barone.

Lastly, a go-it-alone measure had mixed results in rural Colorado; five counties voted for splitting and creating a 51st state while six counties voted against it. The vote was mostly symbolic.