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  A special adviser to the group, David Evans, says some Americans have outdated views about the drug's potency.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.

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