NEW YORK — Voters in Oregon and the District of Columbia approved ballot measures Tuesday allowing the use of marijuana by adults, elating legalization activists who hope to extend their winning streak across the country.
Oregon will join the company of Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved the recreational use of pot two years ago. And the District of Columbia is on the same path unless Congress, which has review power, blocks the move.
Still to come were results from Alaska, which also had a marijuana-legalization measure on its ballot Tuesday.
Other volatile issues on state ballots include gambling and abortion. Voters in Washington state, faced with two competing measures on gun sales, approved an expansion of background checks.
The District of Columbia’s marijuana measure does not provide for the legal sale of marijuana, leaving that matter up to the D.C. Council. That’s different from the measures in Oregon and Alaska, which would follow the example of Colorado and Washington state in setting up systems for regulating and taxing retail sales of marijuana.
The Drug Policy alliance, one of the leaders of the legalization campaign, said Tuesday’s results would bolster its efforts to push through a ballot measure in California in 2016
“The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the alliance’s executive director.
Oregon’s measure calls for pot legalization by July 1, and requires the state Liquor Control Commission to adopt regulations by Jan. 1, 2016.
Oregon sheriffs were among the law’s chief opponents, contending that legalization would give children access to marijuana and could lead to more people driving under the influence.
The campaign in D.C. included a debate about race – the measure’s supporters said blacks in the city had been disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrests.
Gary Fulwood, a support staffer for the city’s fire and EMS department, voted for the initiative.
“The criminal justice system is getting bogged down by marijuana use, and a lot of the people who use marijuana aren’t criminals,” Fulwood said. “I don’t see it being any worse than alcohol.”
In Florida, a measure that would have allowed marijuana use for medical reasons fell short of the 60 percent approval to pass; near-complete returns showed it getting about 57 percent of the vote. Twenty-three states allow medical marijuana.
Some of the other questions before voters Tuesday:
In Colorado and North Dakota, voters rejected measures that opponents feared could lead to bans on abortion.
The Colorado proposal would have added “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code. It was the third measure on Colorado ballots in recent years seeking to grant “personhood” to the unborn.
North Dakota voters rejected an amendment that would have declared in the state constitution “the inalienable right to life of every human being at every stage of development must be recognized and protected.”
In Tennessee, voters approved a measure that will give state legislators more power to regulate abortion. Opponents fear it will lead to tough new laws that would jeopardize women’s access to abortions.
In Massachusetts, voters passed up a chance to say “No” to casinos. They rejected a measure that would have repealed a 2011 law authorizing development of a slots parlor and up to three resort casinos. There are none in the state now, but casino plans have been approved for three cities across the state.
A victory for the anti-casino forces would have marked the first time – at least since the modern era of U.S. gambling began in 1931 – that a state reversed a major legislative decision to expand gambling.
Voters in Arkansas and Nebraska approved increases in their states’ minimum wages. In Arkansas, it will rise from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, in Nebraska from $7.25 to $9. Two other states – Alaska and South Dakota – also were voting on minimum wage increases.
In Washington state, voters approved a measure to expand background checks on gun sales and transfers; the checks will extended to private transactions and many loans and gifts. The rival measure would have prevented the state from expanding checks in that fashion; it was trailing statewide.
Like federal law, Washington law currently requires checks for sales or transfers by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers, like those who sell at gun shows or to friends.
Massachusetts voters approved a measure that supporters say will establish the nation’s strongest requirement for providing paid sick time to workers. Workers will be able to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time in a given year, earning one hour for every 30 hours worked. Companies with 10 or fewer employees would be exempt.
TEACHERS TAKE STANDS
In Missouri, voters defeated a measure – bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions – that would have tied teachers’ jobs and salaries to the performance of their students.
Teachers unions were supporting an initiative in Washington state that would reduce class size and increase staffing support in grades K-12. State financial experts believe the measure would eventually cost the state about $2 billion a year to pay for thousands more teachers and other school staff.
Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have required labeling of certain genetically modified foods. The proposal would have applied to raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering, but not apply to food served in restaurants.
A similar measure was on the ballot in Oregon.
Opponents of the requirements – including food corporations and biotech firms – said mandatory labels would mislead consumers into thinking engineered ingredients are unsafe, which scientists have not proven.
Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.