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Legal pot, gun control and other big ballot initiatives to watch

November 2, 2016 at 6:30 PM EST
There are more than 150 ballot initiatives this year at the state level, capable of creating huge change for voters. Nine states are voting on the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana. Other measures concern gun control, the minimum wage and the death penalty. John Yang learns more from John Myers of the Los Angeles Times and Josh Altic of Ballotpedia for more.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s focus now on a different election story, ballot initiatives and measures at the state and local level. It’s a big year for it. There are more than 150 at the state level this year.

John Yang has the story.

JOHN YANG: Next Tuesday, legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use is on the ballot in nine states. And voters across the country will also decide other contentious issues, including gun control, health care and prescription drug costs, the death penalty and the minimum wage.

We take a look at some of these issues with two people who are following them very closely.

John Myers is the Sacramento bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times, and Josh Altic tracks ballot issues for Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan online political encyclopedia.

Josh, John, thank you both for joining us.

John, let me start with you.

California, as usual, has a long list of ballot initiatives that voters have to decide next Tuesday. And let’s start with marijuana. California voters approved marijuana for medicinal use in 1996, and rejected it for recreational use in 2010. Why is it back? And what’s different this time?

JOHN MYERS, Los Angeles Times: Yes, I mean, it’s a good question. Why is it back?

We’re the largest state in the country. And I think there has been the sense that there is a sea change in the way Californians view this, I think, in some ways mirrored in other parts of the country as well, and certainly efforts in Colorado and Washington state have gotten a lot of attention here in California.

This measure, I will tell you, is drafted much differently than the measure that failed in 2010. It’s more detailed. It has more details about taxes that are imposed at the state and local level on marijuana. And it’s backed by a couple of very big people.

The lieutenant governor of the state, Gavin Newsom, and Sean Parker, the impresario behind Napster and Facebook in Silicon Valley, a wealthy financier, have both gotten behind it. It has a lot of institutional support. And the polling shows that it is doing pretty well.

How you get to legalization, I think California is watching these other state, but at this point, it looks voters are probably going to say yes.

JOHN YANG: And, Josh, what other states is this on the ballot in? And this is — we see oftentimes ballot initiates leading the way for federal law, federal policy. It’s still illegal at the federal level. Could this be the tipping point this year?

JOSH ALTIC, Ballotpedia: There has been a lot of discussion about whether this is the year that will really push towards removal of federal prohibition.

You have it — so, 80 million people live in states this year where marijuana laws could be basically made more accessible to every person. So, you have recreational marijuana in Nevada, Arizona. Those are the big ones. Maine, Massachusetts, and, of course, California.

And while California stands kind of above the rest as a really significant landmark for the tipping point idea, the fact that you have five other states, more than we have ever seen on the ballot at the same time, considering the issue is an indication that this could be a really key year for the policy.

JOHN YANG: Another big issue nationally — it’s on the state ballot in a couple places — health care and drug prices.

John, talk to us about, tell us about what California voters are being asked to decide on prescription drug costs.

JOHN MYERS: You know, I think, you know, what most people should need to know about the ballot measure here in California, it’s Proposition 61 on the statewide ballot next week.

It is, in a lot of ways, I would argue, a bit of a symbolic fight about the cost of prescription drugs. It is simply a measure that says that the state government cannot pay a price that is higher than what the federal government pays the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs when it is buying prescription drugs.

You know, the backers of it say it will bring some realistic — bringing down, perhaps, the prices and some transparency. The opponents, which is really the pharmaceutical industry, says it’s going to raise the cost of drug prices. It could for veterans and it could for others.

This is more than a $100 million political fight here in California. The television ads, the billboards — I was driving on the highway. There was a yes-on-61 billboard and then a no-on-61 billboard within a mile of each other. It is a knock-down, drag-out fight.

I suspect, again, it is seen as a fight that would be a proxy war for a national discussion on the cost of prescription drugs.

JOHN YANG: And, Josh, in Colorado, voters are being asked to decide another big issue that is being talked about again with the rising Obamacare premiums, a single-payer system. Tell us about that.

JOSH ALTIC: Yes. So, ColoradoCare is on the ballot here.

That’s not nearly the nail-biter that you see in Prop 61. You don’t have the support money that you kind of see in California. That one is not very likely to pass. All the polls kind of point towards it failing. But it’s still unique and very significant because it’s the first of its kind to really propose a statewide single-payer health care system like that through the citizen initiative.

Who knows kind of what doors that could unlock for future initiatives. This one didn’t seem to get the support from key Democrats and didn’t seem to get the money it needed to pass. And you have the insurance companies spending enough to make it look like it’s not going to pass.

But the fact that you have it on the ballot, it’s significant. It’s a first-of-its-kind measure, for sure.

JOHN YANG: Gun control, a perennial issue, John, in California, voting on ammunition, on magazine size.

JOHN MYERS: Yes, I mean, California already has pretty much more gun control laws on the books than any other state. We’re seen by that nationally.

This ballot measure, also backed by the lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, who wants to be governor in 2018 — and I suspect that’s part of why he’s out there promoting these — but he also says he cares about it. Proposition 63 is the one you’re talking about.

It would require background checks for buying ammunition. It would ban the sale of large ammunition clips. It somewhat mirrors what the state legislature already did this year. But it has become a very big issue. Certainly, a lot of gun violence incidents we have seen across the country, I think, have played into this campaign.

And, interestingly enough, you have opposition from the gun industry, from the NRA as well, but you do not see a large opposition political campaign this election season. And, in some ways, maybe they have read the polling numbers that Californians appear poised to do this. But there would be new and, I think, interesting policy choices about looking at ammunition and not just the weapons themselves.

JOHN YANG: And, Josh, of course, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg trying to make a push nationally on this. What other states are we seeing gun control issues on the ballot?

JOSH ALTIC: Yes, he’s spending a lot of money this year in Nevada and Maine and Washington to sort of promote measures, likewise, that would increase the amount of control the state government has over guns.

And, interestingly, you don’t see the NRA fighting back as hard as you might expect. In Maine and in Nevada, support is outspending opposition about 5-1. And there’s more money being spent in Nevada.

But, really, this is kind of a big national fight between Bloomberg and the NRA. And so far, more money has been put forward in support of these measures, which is a bit of a surprise to some people. They’re doing pretty well in the polls as well. You’re looking at between six and 10 points in the most recent polls. So, it’s looking pretty good for the passage of those measures.

And that could be a reason why you don’t see as much money being spent by the NRA.

JOHN YANG: Josh and John, lots of issues to talk about, and lots of issues that we will be talking about next week and for the days to come.

Thanks for joining us.

JOHN MYERS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, it’s been 589 days since the presidential campaign began. And to get you through this last week, Lisa Desjardins has written an election survival guide. You can find that at PBS.org/”NewsHour.”

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