The other races to watch: Governors, pot and more

Jerry Cox, president of Family Council, speaks in Little Rock, Ark. on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, against a proposed ballot measure that would allow marijuana use for medical reasons in Arkansas.
AP Photo/Danny Johnston

The presidential race isn't the only game-changing item on the 2012 ballot.

In a handful of states, voters will decide on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and genetically modified food labeling. In some states, competitive races for the governor's office could reset economic policy. While ballot initiatives and gubernatorial races are decided at the state level, their impact could be felt nationwide.

There are 11 gubernatorial elections today, and Republicans have an opportunity to expand the number of governor's offices they occupy to its highest level in decades. Currently, the GOP holds 29 seats, while Democrats hold 20 (there's one independent governor: Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island). Eight of the 11 seats up for grabs today are currently held by Democrats, giving Republicans an opportunity to increase their advantage.

In states with ballot initiatives, there are some firsts this year: Voters in a couple of states could legalize recreational marijuana use, setting up an unprecedented fight with the federal government. In other states, voters are likely to approve, for the first time in the nation, a ballot measure to allow for same-sex marriage instead of banning it.

Here's a look at the ballot initiatives and gubernatorial races to watch today:

Washington state's Initiative 502: Marijuana legalization

There are six states this November voting on marijuana-related measures, including three that would buck federal law and for the first time legalize the drug's recreational use at the state level: Washington state, Colorado and Oregon. Washington's Initiative 502 is the most likely to pass.

The measure, like its counterparts in Colorado and Oregon, would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. A University of Washington poll conducted Oct. 18-31 showed that 55.4 percent of likely voters in the state plan to vote for marijuana legalization while only 37.6 percent plan to vote against the measure. Both major candidates for governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee, are opposed to I-502.

It's unclear exactly how the federal government would respond if a state chose to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Seventeen states have, over the past decade and a half, legalized medical marijuana -- also in violation of federal law, which prohibits any use of marijuana. However, it's up to federal officials how to enforce federal laws. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama promised to respect state medical marijuana laws, but his administration has cracked down on hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries, including some in compliance with state laws.