When Californians voted to steer nonviolent drug offenders to rehab instead of jail, they made one of the few big changes in law and government policy approved around the country Tuesday. The measure backed by a trio of rich drug-law reformers could shake up the state's criminal justice system while placing huge demands on already-strapped drug treatment programs.
"We saw the voters were ready for a change in drug policy much more radical than the politicians were going to give them," said Dave Fratello, who managed the campaign for Proposition 36. "We tapped into public sentiment."
History shows that voters usually shy from tinkering with public policy. More than half of ballot measures fail and the more dramatic, the less likely to pass. This Election Day was no different.
Voters rejected doctor-assisted suicide for Maine's terminally sick, and civil rights protection for Maine's gays and lesbians.
They said no to sweeping school voucher proposals in Michigan and California, and turned down a state lottery, casinos and charity bingo in Arkansas.
They refused to demand women in Colorado wait 24 hours after seeking an abortion. They said no to shutting Massachusetts dog tracks. And they trounced curbs on growth in Arizona and Colorado.
Alaskans declined to make marijuana legal. Oregon voters rejected repeal of tough mandatory sentences for violent crimes.
In giving their approval to certain measures, voters appeared to take their lead from other states.
Bilingual education was banned in Arizona as it is already in California. And Utah voters joined more than 20 states in declaring English the state's official tongue.
In Nevada and Colorado, voters gave the green light to marijuana for medical use which already is permitted in six other states.
Nevada and Nebraska defined traditional matrimony in their constitutions to repel same-sex unions like Vermont now allows.
Alabama repealed an outmoded 99-year-old ban on interracial marriage the last state with such a provision on its books.
The California treatment alternative for drug crimes passed by 61 percent.
Backing came from New York philanthropist George Soros, Ohio insurance executive Peter Lewis and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling. It was part of their push to get drug reform laws through legislatures and by ballot.
They promote drug treatment over prison, and relaxing what they consider draconian laws, to allow marijuana for medicinal use, for example.
Opponents included actor Martin Sheen, a recovering alcoholic, and treatment clinics including the Betty Ford Center. They warned quality treatment couldn't be guaranteed for the estimated 36,000 people the measure will affect and said the measure, essentially, legalizes drugs involved in crime.