While the contest between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was clearly the main event in US general elections on 6 November, when the dust finally settled voters across the country had also weighed in on dozens of ballot measures. Here is a rundown of some of the votes with relevance for science, health and environment policy.
Marijuana: How high will the legal challenges go?
Colorado and Washington made history by becoming the first US states where voters have approved the legalization of marijuana outside of medicinal uses. In Colorado, voters amended the state’s constitution to allow specialty retail outlets to sell up to one ounce of the drug to adults aged 21 and older. The amendment also permits adults to grow a limited number of marijuana plants at home. In Washington, a measure legalizing marijuana also prohibits motorists from driving with more than 5 nanograms per millilitre of THC — the active component in marijuana — in their blood.
The measures are in direct conflict with federal regulations which ban the substance, setting the stage for a legal showdown. Neither the US Justice Department nor the Drug Enforcement Agency has indicated a forthcoming change in federal policy or practices.
In a more modest decision, voters in Massachusetts agreed to legalize medical marijuana, making it the 18th state to do so. The law authorizes patients to obtain up to a 60-day supply of marijuana with a doctor’s certification. Meanwhile, a similar measure to legalize medical marijuana failed in Arkansas. In Montana, voters affirmed tighter restrictions on medical marijuana, including limiting each marijuana provider to three patients.
Agriculture: Genetically modified foods avoid labelling
In California, voters defeated a measure that would have required special labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms. Supporters of the proposal had hoped its passage would make California the first state to require such labeling and spark a movement around the country. The measure’s opponents — including the St. Louis-based Monsanto, which produces genetically modified crop seeds — outspent supporters $46 million to roughly $9 million and led an aggressive advertising campaign that had shifted poll numbers against the measure in recent weeks.
In another ballot measure North Dakota voted to amend its state constitution to protect farmers’ rights to use agricultural technology and “modern livestock production and ranching practices.” While the ballot measure did not specifically name genetically modified crops, some opponents of the amendment feared it could block governmental efforts to restrict genetically engineered crops in the future.
Energy: More renewable energy for some, not others
Michigan voters defeated an initiative that would have required electric utilities to generate at least 25% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. In 2008 the state already passed a measure requiring 10% renewable energy by 2015.
Renewable energy projects in California are expected to receive a boost after residents voted to increase taxes on some multistate businesses and shunt about half of the revenue towards efforts that would improve energy efficiency.
Wildlife: Protecting hunters and fisherman
Pre-empting challenges by animal rights advocates, voters in Idaho, Kentucky, and Nebraska all said yes to measures that would enshrine hunting and fishing as constitutional rights in those states.