Three Bay Area cities and Boulder, CO, Tuesday won voter approval to impose taxes on sugary drinks, joining Berkeley, CA, which passed the nation’s first soda tax in 2014. All are out to show higher taxes can cut sugar consumption and thereby reduce related diseases like diabetes and obesity.
All four tax measures passed with wide margins. Boulder, where voters have approved 14 consecutive tax measures, saw its soda tax approved with 54.7 percent of the vote, giving it a 4,000 vote cushion.
The concept did even better in the Bay Area, winning 62 percent to 38 percent approvals in both San Francisco and Oakland. Nearby Albany, CA, approved the soda tax, 71 percent to 29 percent.
All four votes were stunning defeats for the American Beverage Association, which spent millions opposing the ballot measures.
It spent at least $21.3 million trying to defeat the soda tax in San Francisco and at least another $1 million in Boulder, but couldn’t get any traction. The fact that soda taxes are regressive, meaning the most is paid by poor people, did not appear to make a difference in the high income enclaves of Boulder and Bay Area cities.
Health advocates, such as Healthy Boulder Kids, ran local campaigns to combat what they called “Big Soda,” claiming the soda tax will help low income kids make better choices.
As written, the California taxes are not dedicated to any specific program or purpose.
Berkley has sent 42.5 percent of the new soda tax revenue to public schools for cooking, gardening, and nutrition programs. Another 42.5 percent goes to city groups that work on health issues. The city takes 15 percent for administration.
Boulder’s soda tax was set at 2 cents per ounce on drinks produced with “added sugar and sweeteners.” Revenues are to be used for administrative costs, health promotions and wellness programs, including some for low income residents. Home of the University of Colorado, Boulder expects to collect $3.8 million in the first year of the soda taxes.
Prior to the 2014 Berkley election, soda taxes had been defeated on at least 40 ballots around the country.
Other ballot measures
Tuesday’s state elections also saw voters approve the sale of recreational marijuana in four more states: California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine. Medical marijuana was approved by voters in Florida, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota.
With the addition of 39 million Californians, one in five Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal for adults 21 and older. More than half the states now permit medical marijuana.
The California, Massachusetts and Nevada wins for recreational marijuana fell in the 56 to 44 percent range. It was much closer in Maine, where the no vote reached 49.8 percent to just 50.2 for the yes vote, or less than 3,200 statewide.
A 52.1 majority of Arizona voters declined to legalize marijuana for adults. It fell more than 82,000 votes short. But that defeat may only be a speed bump as New Frontier Data, with expertise in the cannabis industry data, says defeat means medical marijuana will grow to $681 million by 2020, only slightly lower than would have been reached with passage of recreational marijuana.
The four additional states join Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and the District of Columbia with state or district laws that permit adult use of marijuana.
In Massachusetts, voters likely setup a future federal court case or one of those last minute Congressional fixes with overwhelming approval of what animal activists call “the country’s most comprehensive anti-confinement law for farm animals.” By 78 percent to 22 percent, Bay State voters agreed to prohibit the sale of eggs, veal or pork from animals raised in confinement where they cannot lie down, stand up, fully extend limbs or turn around freely.
But Massachusetts has many more lawyers than farmers and POLITICO says the new regulations will apply only to one poultry farm in the state. However, with its January 2022 effective date, the new rule is intended to apply to out-of-state sources of eggs, veal and pork. That’s the kind of requirement likely to be disputed down the road.