Advocates of marijuana legalization had a bad night at the ballot
boxes yesterday as voters in several states appeared to reject
proposals to relax or eliminate the prohibition on pot smoking. The
only place to buck the trend was the District, where voters strongly
backed a plan to send marijuana smokers to a clinic rather than to
jail.

Voters in Arizona and South Dakota rejected measures that would have
legalized production and use of marijuana in certain circumstances.
Nevada voters turned down a proposal to legalize the sale and use of
the drug.

And South Dakota voters rejected a proposal to let defendants argue to
the jury that drug laws are unfair. Voters in Ohio rejected a proposal
similar to the one that passed in the District, requiring courts to
treat marijuana use as a health problem, not a crime.

"The failure to relax the marijuana laws is probably the most
surprising result this year," said Dane Waters, who tracks direct
democracy initiatives at the Leesburg-based Initiative & Referendum
Institute. "The legalization campaign scored several ballot victories
in '98 and 2000, but this year they're striking out in most places."

Efforts to crack down on the smoking of tobacco, meanwhile, produced
mixed results. In Florida, voters approved a ballot measure that bans
smoking tobacco in almost any public place, including restaurants. And
Arizonans appeared to approve a big increase in the tax on tobacco
products. But a proposal to quadruple the cigarette tax in Missouri
appeared to have lost, by a small margin, with most precincts
reporting. And Michigan voters spurned an initiative that would have
directed the legislature to spend much more money on public
anti-smoking campaigns.

Voters around the country showed they were willing to raise their
state or local taxes to pay for education and infrastructure
improvements.

Of 24 education funding proposals on the various ballots, 17 passed,
six were defeated and one was uncertain early this morning, according
to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Dozens of
transportation bond issues also passed. But Washington state voters
approved an initiative to cut auto license fees.

Voters rejected the two strongest proposals for cutting taxes, heeding
the words of state officials who had forecast dire impacts if the tax
cuts went through. Massachusetts voters rejected a plan to eliminate
the state income tax. In Arkansas, a proposal to end the sales tax on
food and medicine was voted down.

The growing effort to ban bilingual education produced mixed results
in voting yesterday. Massachusetts voters gave resounding approval to
a controversial ballot measure that would require immigrant students
to take all courses in English in public schools. But a similar
"English-immersion" proposal on the Colorado ballot appeared to have
been defeated, with well over half the precincts counted.

Unlike Massachusetts, top political officials from both parties in
Colorado had come out against the English-only proposal. The
opposition centered on a provision in the Colorado plan that would
have allowed parents to sue teachers who used a student's native
language in the classroom.

California and Arizona voters have already approved proposals banning
bilingual education. Backers of this year's initiatives said they
would move on to other states in the future despite the Colorado rejection.

The vote on another controversial education measure was running close
in Florida. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, a proposal to
limit class sizes in public schools -- it would permit a maximum of 18
students per class in lower grades and 25 in high school -- had the
approval of 53 percent of voters. But the margin was small enough that
absentee ballots could reverse the result.

Florida returns also showed voters approving an animal rights
initiative that would prohibit pork farmers from holding pregnant sows
in cages until delivery. If passed, the measure is likely to be put on
the ballots in other pork-producing states.

Animal rights groups also appeared to win in Oklahoma, where a
proposal to ban cockfighting had 54 percent of the vote with about
one-third of all precincts reporting. But a proposal to make abuse of
animals a felony appeared to have been defeated in Arkansas.

Voters in 40 states and the District confronted ballot measures
yesterday. The number of citizen initiatives before the voters this
year was down sharply from two years earlier -- partly because
legislatures have been tightening requirements for putting proposals
on the ballot -- but there was still a rich variety of laws and
constitutional amendments for the electorate to consider.

Some of the initiatives reflected strictly local conditions, such as
the innovative idea on the North Dakota ballot that would provide a
bounty of up to $10,000 to any new college graduate who agrees to live
in the state for at least five years. That measure was specifically
designed to counter the flood of "outmigration" that has made North
Dakota the slowest-growing state in the union.

With about half the precincts reporting, the North Dakota bounty plan
was being firmly rejected. State Republican leaders had attacked the
idea, saying it would break the state's budget.

But many of the proposals on state ballots reflected national
campaigns by interest groups that decided they would have better luck
taking their ideas directly to the people than going through a state
legislature.

Although the relaxation of "pot" laws is generally considered an issue
primarily for the young, the ballot measures around the country were
pushed vigorously by three rich senior citizens, who poured large sums
into each of the local campaigns. Financier George Soros, businessman
John Sperling and insurance magnate Peter Lewis have donated hundreds
of thousands of dollars to the campaigns.

"It's three older guys who decided these laws are wrong," Lewis
explained in an interview before Tuesday's voting. "You probably can't
get the legislatures to ease up on drug penalties, but when you give
people a chance to vote directly on the issue, the reforms get a lot
of support."

The total number of statewide ballot measures in 2002 is almost the
same as in 2000, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute,
which tracks trends in direct democracy. But most of the measures,
both statewide and local, have been placed on the ballot by city
councils or state legislatures. A majority of these are proposals to
issue bonds or raise taxes to pay for new public infrastructure.

There has been a sharp drop this year in the number of initiatives
placed on the ballots by citizen petitions. The institute counts 53
measures around the country that were initiated by citizens' groups
rather than by legislatures.

"We seen a real fallback in the initiative process this year, but it's
not clear whether this is a long-term trend," said Dane Waters, of the
Initiative & Referendum Institute.

"It could be that this is because people don't have the money this
year to launch a campaign. It may be that the advocates want to see
how the state legislatures look after redistricting; maybe they can
get what they want without going to an initiative.

"But the key factor is the fact that legislatures basically don't like
the initiative process," Waters said. "There have been changes in
several states making it harder to get a proposal on the ballot."

Even in Oregon, by some measures the world capital of the citizen
initiative process, there were fewer proposals placed on the statewide
ballot by petition -- just 12 this year, as opposed to 26 in the 2000
election.

Oregon voters appeared to reject the most far-reaching ballot
proposals before. They voted down a proposal to provide universal
health care to all state citizens and a proposed requirement that any
food containing genetically modified organisms be so labeled.

However, an initiative to raise the minimum wage in Oregon to $6.90 an
hour -- about 25 percent higher than the federal minimum wage --
appeared to pass with more than half the votes counted.

Pubdate: Wed, 06 Nov 2002
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A28
Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/