Last week, the Dissent NewsWire reported on ballot initiatives to watch during the 2016 elections. Election day turned out favorably for marijuana legalization, but other civil liberties did not fair nearly as well. In particular, we saw major losses in regards to the death penalty, the right to assemble, and reforming the prison system.
Massive wins for marijuana legalization
Legalization of recreational marijuana saw victories in California, Massachusetts and Nevada. The win in California is particularly notable because of California’s status as the fifth largest economy in the world, which will double the market for marijuana in the United States. The only loss of the night for recreational marijuana came in Arizona, where the “no” votes won by a comfortable margin.
Public support for medical marijuana was also strong, with legalization in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas. It will be important to watch how the federal government responds to this drastic shift towards legalization.
Death Penalty Losses
California voters denied Proposition 62, which would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with a maximum sentence of life without parole. Instead, they voted to pass the competing measure Prop 66, which will make the death penalty more cost efficient and speed up the amount of time between sentencing and death. The loss is devastating, since California currently has 741 individuals on death row.
The death penalty was also reaffirmed in Oklahoma and Nebraska, with Oklahoma reasserting that the death penalty does not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment and Nebraska reversing its 2015 decision to abolish the death penalty completely.
Right to Assembly: Homelessness
San Francisco voted in favor of outlawing tents that are used by the homeless for shelter. The measure was backed and funded by multiple wealthy businessmen, who managed to get it passed even though it does not address where homeless people will go once their temporary shelters are taken away from them. The measure is bound to be disputed for infringing the right to assemble.
Criminal Justice Reform
The Colorado Removal of Exception to Slavery Prohibition for Criminals Amendment was not approved in Colorado. The state will not amend the language of its constitution to forbid involuntary servitude or slavery for individuals that have been sentenced to a crime. The vote was close, with “no” votes only outnumbering “yes” votes by less than a percentage point.
On a positive note, a number of prosecutors that campaigned on criminal justice reform claimed victories across the country. These prosecutors campaigned against government abuses and promised to prioritize fairness over toughness.
The night also delivered good news on Prop 57 in California and Question 780 in Oklahoma. California’s Prop 57 will allow judges to decide if individuals under 18 should be tried in adult courts, as well as increasing the number of opportunities those convicted have to seek parole. Question 780 in Oklahoma will downgrade some crimes, like drug possession and property crimes, to misdemeanors instead of felonies. Prop 780 will allow those convicted of non-violent drug offenses to seek help for addiction rather than be charged with lengthy prison sentences. The passage of these measures along with the wave of progressive prosecutors that were elected show that the country does favor criminal justice reform, it just has to be achieved inch by inch.