Roundup: Ballot Initiatives Make Breakthroughs on Election Night

Precedents set by passage of key ballot initiatives on issues as diverse as genetically modified organisms, marijuana, and sugary beverages have associations and trade groups speaking out.

The top story in yesterday’s midterm elections was the Republican Party’s sweeping congressional and statehouse wins, but that was not the only story.

For trade groups, some of the biggest action wasn’t happening at the top of the ballot, but further down, where ballot propositions could help decide an industry’s future.

Read on for a list of the more notable ballot measures decided on Tuesday.

Marijuana Groups Claim Victory

The midterms were particularly fruitful for marijuana legalization efforts, with Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, DC, passing laws legalizing the drug.

Trade groups welcomed the new laws. “More and more people are realizing that it makes sense to choose licensed, regulated, and taxed marijuana businesses over the drug cartels,” Marijuana Industry Group Executive Director Mike Elliott told Business Insider.

But while marijuana enthusiasts made many gains Tuesday, those gains weren’t universal. In Florida, a vote on medical marijuana failed to reach the 60 percent threshold needed for a state amendment to go into effect. However, at 58 percent, it did get very close.

A First-of-its-Kind Beverage Tax

Also on Tuesday, a ballot measure passed in Berkeley, California, that taxes sugary beverages a penny per ounce. It’s the first such law in the nation. It could have been worse for the beverage industry, however, as a similar measure in San Francisco failed.

American Beverage Association (ABA) spokesman Chris Grindlesperger told Politico that polls show that most Americans oppose such a tax. “Berkeley doesn’t look like mainstream America,” he said. In a statement, ABA officials highlighted industry efforts that it argued were more effective than taxes.

Others disagree, saying passage of the beverage tax in Berkeley is a breakthrough win. “If it could win in Berkeley, it could win in a lot of places,” said Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University and author of Food Politics. And the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggested that the beverage industry “can no longer count on spending their way to victory.”

Split Decisions on GMOs

Another issue being battled at the state level ended Tuesday largely in favor of biotech and grocery interests, with voters in Oregon and Colorado deciding against labeling foods that contain GMOs.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has previously fought successfully against such ballot measures in states like Washington. GMA is currently in a legal battle with the state of Vermont over legislative passage of a GMO-labeling law.

“The proponents of GMO labeling have been clear in their public statements that they want to eliminate GMOs from the marketplace. Labeling is the first step to do that,” GMA lobbyist Mike Gruber told the Wall Street Journal prior to the election.

Anti-GMO supporters did enjoy a key breakthrough on Tuesday, however. Voters on the Hawaiian island of Maui narrowly passed a temporary ban on planting—not labeling, but planting—genetically modified crops. The measure succeeded despite one of the most costly campaigns in the state’s history, which Honolulu Civic Beat notes drew nearly $8 million in spending from opponents alone.

“I think that this is a really strong message to the entire agrochemical industry in the state of Hawaii that we are no longer going to sit idly by and watch them expand their operations without the kinds of regulations that ensure the health and safety of people across Hawaii,” Ashley Lukens of the Hawaii chapter of the Center for Food Safety, a key proponent of the measure, said of the vote.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!