Election 2008

Mark Moran/AP

New Laws Pose Questions, Challenges for State Officials

November 07, 2008 04:30 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Voters approved new laws in many states, but some officials aren’t sure how to implement them.

“Scrambling” in Massachusetts

On Election Day, Massachusetts voters supported Question 2, a ballot initiative that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now, the people charged with enforcing the new law are struggling to figure out how to implement it, according to The Boston Globe.

Supporters of the state’s Question 2 argued that people found with a small amount of marijuana (one ounce or less) should be punished in a way similar to someone who commits a traffic violation—with a $100 fine and no jail time.

With traffic violators, though, police know they can request to see a driver’s license; they are not sure if they can do so with someone who may have violated the “pot law.” What’s more, Massachusetts residents are not required to carry identification.

Police officers could be handing out citations “to Mickey Mouse” without an amendment to the law, Suffolk County District Attorney told The Boston Globe.   
“There's a lot of work that still has to be done to put all this together,” Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings told the Cape Cod Times. “I don't know if the $100 fines are going to add up to whatever it's going to cost to implement it.”

The Boston Globe concluded, “Perhaps backers of Question 2 just wanted people to be able to smoke marijuana with impunity. But rather than arguing openly for that goal, they chose to make a mess of the legal system instead.”

Other States with Questions


On the other side of the country, Californians are struggling to understand what will happen to the marriages of same-sex couples now that the passage of Proposition 8 bans such unions.

It’s certain that no further gay marriages can be legally performed there until the ban is lifted, but there are 16,000 gay couples who have been married in California since the state Supreme Court initially overturned the ban. Such marriages would be considered invalid by the state but these same-sex marriages, previously solemnized in California, would still be valid in places like New York, where the law recognizes out-of-state gay marriages.


Meanwhile, in the state of Washington, some physicians are grappling with the reality that voters supported Initiative 1000, a measure that legalizes physician-assisted suicides.

The Washington State Medical Association was one of the groups opposed to the measure. “Our doctors could not reconcile the act with their oath,” Tom Curry, chief executive of the doctors’ organization, explained in an article in Canadian paper National Post.

Two doctors have already asked if they are required to comply with the law when it goes into effect, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Association spokeswoman Jennifer Hanscom told the paper, “There's no requirement if physicians aren't comfortable with honoring their patients' wishes.”


Nebraska is also part of the controversy being felt around the country with a new ban on affirmative action allowed by voters’ passage of Initiative 424. State, university and local officials are all trying to understand what the law means for their programs, according to KETV.

For example, an educational scholarship meant for people with German ancestry is now of questionable legality.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said the law will primarily be imposed in private lawsuits. “Somebody will decide to sue a governmental subdivision because they believe [there are] race-based preferences taking place.”

Initiative 424 still faces additional hurdles before it can be put into effect. A lawsuit has already been filed that challenges the validity of petition signatures used to place the initiative on the ballot.

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