Marijuana, Marriage, and Abortion: The Year Ahead in Ballot Initiatives

Every major election year, some of the more interesting results come not from contests for elected office, but from ballot initiatives

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Every major election year, some of the more interesting results come not from contests for elected office, but from ballot initiatives. Even though most states haven't yet finalized which questions will or will not go to voters in 2014, some states will almost certainly weigh in on a number of high-profile issues.

Here's a round up of some of the more interesting questions out there right now, and where the efforts to get those questions to voters in 2014 stands:

Legal Weed 


Thanks in part to the successful implementation of legal marijuana sales in Colorado, other states want in on the quickly mainstreaming business of weed, including for recreational use. There are 12 possible ballot proposals on the subject for 2014, although not all of them will end up going to voters. Here are some of the more likely ones:

Alaska: Pro-weed organizers in Alaska turned in about 46,000 signatures, well above the minimum needed, to get a recreational legalization measure on a state ballot. The proposal would legalize possession up to an ounce, and allow individuals to grow a limited amount of marijuana for personal use. It would also create a framework for regulating the substance in the future. Assuming the state is able to verify a sufficient number of those signatures, Alaska will vote on the subject during the August primary elections.

 Florida: Supporters of a proposed medical marijuana measure in the state say they're on target to collect enough signatures by February 1. If it makes it to the ballot, the proposal would likely pass: 82 percent of Florida voters support legal medical marijuana.

California: Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are four separate proposals out there for the 2014 ballots that would legalize pot. But mounting a ballot initiative in the large state is expensive, and some organizers want advocates to aim for the 2016 elections, instead.

Same-Sex Marriage


The Supreme Court's decision striking down most of the Defense of Marriage Act prompted a wave of legal challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage. Even though many states are still in the process of approving 2014 ballot proposals, it looks like gay marriage bans will face some challenges in November's voting booths.

Some proposed 2014 ballot initiatives — like those in Arizona and Colorado — have already fallen apart, as many national groups hold off on throwing their weight behind ballot-based attempts to overturn marriage bans, at least for now. But some are hoping that won't be necessary. Colorado organizers, for instance, decided to suspend their campaign after a federal judge declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional, implying that the best route to overturning Colorado's own ban might be through the courts.

Oregon:  Initiative 8, officially called the "Right to Marry and Religious Protection Initiative," would amend the state's constitution to open up marriage to all eligible couples, and reinforce the already protected right of clergy to refuse to perform religious ceremonies for same-sex couples. If approved with enough "yes" votes from voters, the measure would undo the state's current ban on same-sex marriage, approved by the state's voters back in 2004.  Supporters have already said that they've collected enough signatures to get Initiative 8 on the ballot this November. 

Ohio: Like Oregon, Ohio voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. And some advocacy groups in the state think the time is right to repeal that ban, after previously delaying an effort to get the issue on the ballot for 2013. As of 2013, the state was split on marriage equality: 48 percent of likely voters support it, while 44 percent oppose. LGBT advocacy group FreedomOhio announced late last year that it had met both requirements to put a marriage equality question on the state's 2014 ballot. 

Indiana: Indiana's state legislature wants to ask voters to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages in the state. The state already prohibits same-sex marriages, and bans recognition of similar same-sex unions. The constitutional measure would reinforce existing law. The General Assembly must pass proposed amendments twice, in two different legislative sessions. It passed once in 2011. If it passes again this year, the measure will go to voters in 2014.

Abortion and "Personhood" 


Three states already have certified ballot measures for the 2014 elections, and there are other proposals in the works. 

North Dakota: Voters will weigh in on Measure One, or the "Life Begins at Conception Amendment," after the state's legislature approved the measure for the 2014 ballots. If approved, the state's constitution would be amended to declare that life begins at conception. In other words, the state would ban all abortions, without exceptions. It could also trigger limitations on birth control, in vitro fertilization, and stem cell research in the state.

Tennessee: If approved, the "Tennessee Abortion Amendment" would amend the state constitution to remove any protections for abortion rights in the state. The proposed amendment  would give legislators the ability to "enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion." A 2000 decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the state's strong constitutional privacy protections provided even more protection for women in the state seeking abortions than the U.S. Constitution does. Essentially, some legislators hope voters will pass the amendment so they can start making new laws restricting access to the procedure. 

Colorado*: The Colorado measure, called the "Brady Amendment" would amend the state constitution to include fetuses in the state's definition of a "person." The amendment is a more vague version of another, similar, proposal circulated in the state for consideration. The amendment would read: "In the interest of the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and negligent and wrongful acts, the words “person” and “child” in the Colorado Criminal Code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act must include unborn human beings." 

Bonus Round: California

In addition to the pressing issues of our time above, American citizens have some other cool ideas for America. Often, those Americans live in California. Here is the "best" potential ballot question from the state this year.

"Six Californias:" So, rich technology man Tim Draper thinks California should be six states, and he's throwing a lot of money behind an effort to get the idea on the 2014 ballot. Conveniently for Draper, we're guessing, the proposal would basically make Silicon Valley its own state. The proposal is still waiting for a title and summary from the state Attorney General, meaning that Draper hasn't yet started to collect the needed signatures. Draper's reasons for supporting the idea include the ability to come up with "a new crowd sourced state flower," Senators for each new state, and "Competition is good, monopolies are bad."

*Correction: an earlier version of this post incorrectly referenced a different version of the "Brady Amendment" from the one that will appear before Colorado voters later this year.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.