By DAVID A. LIEB Associated Press — The nationwide push to legalize marijuana gained momentum Tuesday with victories in Arizona and New Jersey, and Louisiana voters affirmed an anti-abortion amendment, as scores of hot-button ballot measures were decided across the country.
A total of 120 proposed state laws and constitutional amendments were on the ballot in 32 states. They touched on an array of issues that have roiled politics in recent years — voting rights, racial inequalities, taxes and education, to name a few.
But none directly dealt with the dominant theme of 2020 — the coronavirus pandemic. That’s because the process to put measures on the ballot began, in most cases, before the virus surged to the forefront.
The Democratic-led New Jersey Legislature decided last December to place a measure on the ballot asking voters whether they should legalize marijuana for adults age 21 and older. Voter approval Tuesday means the Legislature now will have to pass another measure setting up the new marijuana marketplace.
“This victory will undoubtedly have a rippling effect in the Northeast and add to the increasing pressure in neighboring states to take action on marijuana legalization,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which has backed various state-level marijuana campaigns.
The Arizona measure also legalizes marijuana for adults age 21 and older and allows people convicted of certain marijuana crimes to seek expungement of their records. Passage signaled a change of attitudes, after voters there narrowly defeated a legal pot proposal in 2016.
Recreational marijuana measures also were ahead in the polls in Montana and narrowly leading in South Dakota. Medical marijuana initiatives were leading in Mississippi and South Dakota.
A decade ago, recreational marijuana was illegal in all 50 states. Voters allowed it in Colorado and Washington in 2012, sparking a movement that already included 11 states and Washington, D.C., heading into Tuesday’s elections. Supporters hope additional victories, especially in conservative states, could build pressure for Congress to legalize marijuana nationwide.
Voters in Oregon were considering whether to go even further. One proposal there would legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms. Another would make Oregon the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine while also funding drug treatment efforts. The state Democratic Party endorsed the measure; the state Republican Party denounced it as radical.
Two states considered anti-abortion amendments. A measure that passed in Louisiana asserts there is no state constitutional right to abortion — something that could come into play if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
In Colorado, by contrast, a measure was trailing in the polls to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks unless the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Previous Colorado ballot initiatives to limit abortion also failed in 2008, 2010 and 2014.
Several states also were considering measures affecting voting rights.
A Virginia constitutional amendment ahead in the polls would take power away from members of the Democratic-led Legislature to draw voting districts for themselves and members of Congress based on census results. It instead would create a bipartisan commission of lawmakers and citizens to develop a redistricting plan that the Legislature could approve or reject, but not change.
Virginia is the sixth state in the past two general election cycles to vote on measures intended to prevent gerrymandering — a process in which politicians draw voting districts to benefit themselves or their political parties. Voters in Missouri, which passed a redistricting reform measure in 2018, were deciding Tuesday whether to roll back key parts of it before it can be used next year.
The Missouri measure would repeal a nationally unique model to employ a nonpartisan demographer to draw state House and Senate districts to achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.” Republicans who control the Legislature put forth a new ballot measure this year that would return redistricting duties to a pair of bipartisan commissions and drop “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” to the end of the criteria.
In Florida, voters approved a measure gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The measure puts Florida in line with at least seven other states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — and Washington, D.C., which already have enacted laws to gradually boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Tax proposals were on the ballot in more than a dozen states, including higher property taxes on California businesses and higher income taxes on the wealthy in Illinois and Arizona. The additional tax revenue in Arizona would fund pay raises for teachers and other school personnel.
Among the many California ballot issues was one asking voters to repeal a 1996 initiative that prohibits affirmative action programs granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education or contracting.
In Mississippi, a proposal for a new state flag with a magnolia design was leading in the polls. The vote came after legislators in June ended the use of a flag bearing a Confederate battle emblem. In Rhode Island, whose official name is “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” voters were deciding whether to eliminate the final three words, which some say evoke a legacy of slavery.