"Because they sidestep the usual legislative process, citizens' initiatives can help press, pundits, and legislators connect the dots on what is really pushing voters' buttons across America," says John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Marijuana. Three states – Massachusetts, Montana, and Arkansas – are considering medical-marijuana initiatives. The Massachusetts and Arkansas initiatives seek to legalize medical marijuana; Montana's would amend an already existing law.
Meanwhile, another three states – Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – have initiatives that seek to make them the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. A similar initiative in California in 2010 failed, 53 percent to 47 percent. But polls show that the Colorado and Washington measures have majority support.
"If several states are able to pass marijuana initiatives, a policy of legalization could gain ground and possibly be sufficient to reverse the federal prohibition if enough states decide to do so," says Rosalie Pacula, codirector of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, Calif.