Ballot measures broach hot issues; Florida OKs medical pot


NEW YORK (AP) — Floridians voted decisively to legalize marijuana for medical purposes as voters across the nation decided ballot measures addressing an array of volatile issues. Eight other states were considering expanding legal access to pot. Others were voting on gun control and the death penalty.

In all, there were more than 150 measures appearing on statewide ballots. California led the pack with 17 ballot questions, including one that would require actors in porn movies to wear condoms during filming of sexual intercourse. Another would ban single-use plastic grocery bags.

California was among five states — along with Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — voting on whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Arkansas and North Dakota, as well as Florida, were deciding whether to permit marijuana for medical purposes. Montanans voted on whether to ease restrictions on an existing medical marijuana law.

The measure in Florida, a constitutional amendment that needed more than 60 percent support to prevail, makes the state the first in the South with a full-scale medical marijuana program.

Collectively, it was the closest the U.S. has ever come to a national referendum on marijuana.

If “yes” votes prevail across the board, more than 23 percent of the U.S. population will live in states where recreational pot is legal. The jurisdictions where that’s already the case — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia — have less than 6 percent of the population.

Another hot-button issue — gun control — was on the ballot in four states, including California, which already has some of the nation’s toughest gun-related laws. Proposition 63 would outlaw possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, require permits to buy ammunition and extend California’s unique program that allows authorities to seize firearms from owners who bought guns legally but are no longer allowed to own them.

In Maine and Nevada, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent millions promoting ballot measures that would require background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers. Supporters say the changes would close gaps in the federal system that allow felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to buy firearms from private sellers at gun shows and online without a background check.

Washington state had a ballot measure that would allow judges to issue orders temporarily seizing guns from individuals who are deemed a threat.

California was one of three states voting on capital punishment, with two competing measures on its ballot. One would repeal the death penalty, which California has rarely used in recent decades. The other would speed up appeals so convicted murderers are actually executed.

In Nebraska, voters were deciding whether to reinstate the death penalty, which the Legislature repealed last year. Oklahoma residents approved a measure to make it harder to abolish capital punishment. It seeks to ensure the state has a way to execute prisoners even if a given method is blocked.

Among the other topics addressed by ballot measures:

— MINIMUM WAGE: Arizona, Colorado and Maine were considering phased-in $12 minimum hourly wages by 2020. In Washington state, where the minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, voters weighed raising that to $13.50 an hour by 2020. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

— AID IN DYING: Colorado voters approved a measure that will allow physicians to assist a terminally ill person in dying. Physician-assisted death also is legal in California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. And Montana’s Supreme Court has ruled that doctors can use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges.

— HEALTH CARE: Another Colorado proposal, trailing badly in partial returns, would set up the nation’s first universal health care system. It called for a $25 billion-a-year health care system funded by payroll taxes, replacing the system of paying private health insurers for care and opting out of the federal health care law.

—GAMBLING: There were mixed verdicts on casino expansion. New Jersey voters rejected a measure that would have allowed casinos outside Atlantic City for the first time in the state’s 38-year history of legalized gambling. Rhode Island voters approved a measure to build a new casino in Tiverton, on the Massachusetts border.

— TAXES: Maine voters were deciding whether to approve a 3 percent tax on people earning more than $200,000 a year to support an education fund for teachers and students. An Oregon measure would impose a 2.5 percent tax on corporate sales that exceed $25 million — with revenue earmarked for education, health and senior services. An initiative in Washington state sought to promote cleaner energy by imposing a tax of $25 per metric ton on carbon emissions from fossil fuels such as gasoline, coal and natural gas.

— TOBACCO TAXES: Votes in four states — California, Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota — were deciding whether to raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.