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Pro-marijuana measures go down in three states

Wed Nov 6, 6:14 AM ET
By MICHAEL LUO, AP National Writer

NEW YORK - Advocates hoping to soften Americans' attitudes toward marijuana ran into vigorous opposition, spearheaded by the White House, and drug reform ballot measures were voted down in Nevada, Arizona and Ohio.

Wealthy backers who had succeeded with several past initiatives to ease access to marijuana for medical uses sought to go a step further and lessen penalties for its use in general, and many voters apparently drew a distinction.

In all, there were 202 propositions placed on local ballots in 40 states on the national election day Tuesday.

In California, secession measures that would have split Los Angeles into three entities the city, Hollywood, and the San Fernando Valley were defeated.

Florida voters banned smoking in most indoor workplaces and restaurants, making theirs the latest state to pass a smoking ban. Four other states have passed similar bans.

Massachusetts residents voted to eliminate bilingual education, but Colorado voters decided to keep it.

Tennessee amended its constitution to allow statewide lotteries, leaving Hawaii and Utah as the only states without any form of legalized gambling.

In the initiative hotbed of Oregon, voters rejected two hotly contested measures, one that would require companies to label genetically modified food and another to universalize health care. The latter was expected to cost taxpayers $1.7 billion.

It was the pro-pot initiatives, however, that drew the most attention this year.

Early polls had made advocates optimistic. The measures were heavily financed by three billionaire philanthropists, George Soros, John Sperling and Peter Lewis, who plotted the campaigns as part of a broader effort to roll back the federal war on drugs.

During the past six years, the three have financed successful efforts to pass 17 of 19 state-level initiatives easing drug laws. In the past, though, most of the measures dealt with medical marijuana.

This time, voters in Nevada defeated a measure to legalize the possession of up to 3 ounces (85 grams) of marijuana. In Arizona, residents rejected an initiative that would have likened marijuana possession to a traffic violation. Finally, Ohio defeated a proposal that would have required judges to order treatment instead of jail for certain offenders who requested it.

President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s newly appointed anti-drug chief, John Walters, and other opponents characterize marijuana as a gateway drug that leads to increased drug abuse by youths. Besides, they say, it causes traffic accidents, domestic violence and health problems.

Advocates were surprised by the force with which the White House fought them in this election.

"What we have seen tonight is how hard the drug war ideologues are willing to fight and how dirty they're willing to fight," said Bruce Merken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, one of the groups that coordinated the campaigns.

Advocates found some solace in the passage of two city-wide marijuana measures. In San Francisco, officials were authorized to explore establishment of a distribution program for medical marijuana; and in the District of Columbia, voters approved a treatment-instead-of-jail measure for pot possession.