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Last updated: February 19. 2013 4:01PM - 138 Views

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While the general election might not break partisan gridlock in Congress, it could result in historic changes for U.S. social policy: Several states had a chance to be the first to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote and to legalize recreational use of marijuana.


Dating back to 1998, same-sex marriage has been rejected in all 32 states that have held popular votes on the issue. Gay-rights advocates believed they had a chance to break that streak as Maine, Maryland and Washington voted on ballot measures to legalize same-sex marriage, and Minnesota voted on whether to place a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.


Marijuana legalization was on the ballot in Washington, Oregon and Colorado; each measure would allow adults to possess small amounts of pot under a regimen of state regulation and taxation. The Oregon proposal had lagged, but the Washington and Colorado measures were believed to have a decent chance of passage.


If approved, the measures would set up a direct challenge to federal drug law.


In Massachusetts, voters approved a measure to allow marijuana use for medical reasons, joining 17 other states. Arkansas voters were deciding on a similar measure that would make it the first Southern state in that group.


In California, voters were deciding whether to repeal the state's death penalty. If the measure prevailed, the more than 720 inmates on death row there would have their sentences converted to life in prison.


In all, there were 176 measures on the ballots Tuesday in 38 states, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.


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