Montanans OK Medical Marijuana; Colorado Rejects Electoral Change

Times Staff Writer

Montana voters on Tuesday approved the use of medical marijuana, but Alaska and Oregon appeared to be rejecting initiatives that would ease restrictions on the drug. In Arizona, voters passed a measure cracking down on illegal immigrants, and Colorado residents rejected an initiative that would have changed the state’s method of electing a president.

Overall, voters decided 163 ballot measures in 34 states.

Montana becomes the 10th state to allow the use of marijuana for patients whose doctors have prescribed it to treat various ailments, such as chronic pain or nausea.

“I’m relieved,” said Paul Befumo, who spearheaded the campaign to pass the initiative. “Montanans had the good sense to not want to put people in prison for using a medication prescribed by their doctors. That’s how I see it: It was just a common-sense kind of issue.”

More than half of Oregon voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have dramatically expanded the existing medical-marijuana program by creating state-controlled marijuana dispensaries, authorizing growers to sell the drug to patients for a profit and increasing the amount a patient can possess from 3 ounces to 1 pound.

“The failure of [the measure] confirms my belief in the ability of Oregon voters to spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Benton County Dist. Atty. Scott Heiser. He said the campaign “was nothing more than an attempt to legalize recreational drug use under the guise of helping the suffering.”


In Alaska, a majority voted against a measure that would have made Alaska the first state to completely legalize marijuana. It sought to make it legal for anyone 21 or older to grow, use or distribute the substance. The measure also would have allowed for regulation and possible taxation of marijuana. If implemented to the fullest, the law could have opened the way for “marijuana retail outlets” similar to state liquor stores.

In Arizona, the ballot initiative to block illegal immigrants from receiving some public services was leading by a comfortable margin.

The proposition, similar in some ways to California’s Proposition 187 of a decade ago, was opposed by the state’s leading political figures, including Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. John McCain.

Under the initiative -- which would require proof of immigration status when applying for child care, housing assistance and other benefits -- state workers could be jailed for failing to report to any illegal immigrants trying to receive services.

Opponents said they would consider filing legal actions to block implementation of the law, which they said would cost taxpayers millions in reporting expenses.

In Colorado, a majority of voters turned down an initiative that would have scrapped the state’s winner-take-all method of distributing electoral college votes in presidential elections and replaced it with a system that would have allocated the state’s nine electoral votes proportionately to each candidate’s popular vote. All states but Maine and Nebraska use a winner-take-all system.

The initiative was written to take effect retroactively, meaning it could have affected this presidential election. The measure was financed by wealthy California activist Jorge Klor de Alva and opposed by the state’s GOP leadership and some state Democrats.

“Let’s face it, Colorado voters are pretty savvy when it comes to outsiders trying to make our state a political petri dish,” said Kathy Finger, co-founder of a group against the measure.

Supporters said the initiative was hurt by the fact that both major political parties worked against it. Julie Brown, spokeswoman for the measure, said: “There may be a lot of people tomorrow morning who wished they had voted differently on this,” referring to the close presidential race.

Voters in Washington and Arkansas rejected measures to boost taxes for education. In Washington, the 1% sales tax increase would have gone to fund preschool through college programs. Supporters included Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, the teachers union, the state PTA and the AFL-CIO. Small businesses opposed the initiative. In Arkansas, a majority also voted against a measure to boost property taxes for education funding.

Voters in Florida and Nevada approved measures raising the state minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, one dollar more than the federal minimum.

Tizon reported from Seattle. Times researcher Lynn Marshall in Seattle and staff writer Richard Marosi in Los Angeles contributed to this report.