US State Ballot Initiatives Gain National Focus

Pamela Dockins
Voters in the November 6 U.S. election will not only be choosing the next president. There are also more than 170 state ballot measures under consideration. Several of the initiatives have gained national attention.

Legalization of Marijuana

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting the medical use of marijuana.

Now, voters in the states of Oregon, Colorado and Washington have a chance to go a step further.

They will decide if recreational use of marijuana should be legal for adults.

Supporters include the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  Deputy Director Paul Armentano says a relaxation of marijuana laws is long overdue.

"Marijuana is here and marijuana is here to stay.  Despite a federal policy that goes back now more than seven decades that says it is illegal to possess and use cannabis, the reality is one of out 10 Americans in this country, today, right now, admit that they use marijuana.  We are not talking about introducing a new substance into society.  Marijuana is already here," Armentano said.

The Drug Free America Foundation is among groups opposing the measures.  A special adviser to the group, David Evans, says some Americans have outdated views about the drug's potency.

"The problem with this is that the public's perception of marijuana is about 30 years old. It is very much behind the times. A lot of people see marijuana as this relatively benign substance. However, the marijuana of today is a good deal more potent than the marijuana 20 or 30 years ago," Evans said.

Legal analysts say any state laws permitting recreational use of marijuana could be challenged at the federal level.

Same-sex Marriage

Another contentious issue in the U.S. is same-sex marriage. Measures are on ballots in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.  

"The reason overall that marriage equality is so important is stable families make stable societies and -- so, same gender marriage really benefits everyone ultimately," said Ned Flaherty, with Marriage Equality USA.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council disagrees.

"We are supportive of continuing to define marriage in the way it has historically been defined, as the union of one man and one woman. We believe that this is not only the traditional but also the national definition of marriage," Sprigg said.

Also, two states, Maryland and Montana, are considering immigrant rights issues, while Florida could move to ban federal funds for abortions.  California is considering abolishing its death penalty, while Massachusetts residents will vote on whether or not to legalize doctor assisted suicide.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs