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Marijuana and minimum wage hikes do well in midterms

Even as the Senate swung to the right, midterm voters approved ballot measures hiking the minimum wage and legalizing recreational marijuana use.
Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on Sept. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on Sept. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Tuesday night was pretty dark for progressives, but there were some silver linings. 

Across the country, ballot measures on two liberal pet issues — raising the minimum wage and winding down the drug war — did remarkably well. Even as the American electorate drove the Senate further to the right, it voted to drive state and local policy to the left in some key areas.

RELATED: America votes on pot, abortion

Multiple red states, including South Dakota, Arkansas and Nebraska, have raised their minimum wages. In both states, the wage hike proposals passed by overwhelming, double-digit margins. Illinois also raised its minimum wage, and Wisconsin voters in nine counties signed off on a non-binding resolution calling on the state to hike its base wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

PHOTO ESSAY: A look at South Dakota lives balanced on the minimum wage

Oregon voted to legalize recreational marijuana use on Tuesday, while the District of Columbia approved a "grow or give" system under which citizens are allowed to possess marijuana, grow it for personal use, and give it away through acts of non-commercial exchange. Only selling cannabis will remain illegal.

"With Oregon and D.C. coming on board, it's clear that Colorado and Washington voting to legalize in 2012 was no anomaly," said Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, in a statement. "The trend is clear: Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end."

Among national voters, voters were split on legalizing pot -- 49% were in favor of legalization, while 47% said it should be illegal, according to the NBC News national exit poll. Some of legalization’s biggest supporters are not surprising: Voters under 30 (64%), Democrats (63%) and liberals (71%). But unlike a number of other issues -- like same-sex marriage, climate change and the health care law -- men are more “liberal” on pot legalization. Fifty-five percent of male voters support legalizing marijuana, while 44% are opposed; among women voters, 46% support it, while 49% say it should be illegal.

The march toward legalization stumbled in one state: Florida. There, a proposal that would have allowed doctors to prescribed medical marijuana to their patients failed at the ballot box.

PHOTO ESSAY: Voters, young and old, take to polls

Paid sick leave legislation also performed well in the cities and states where it was proposed. Massachusetts became the third state to institute a law requiring paid sick days for employees in the state, and Oakland, California, approved a ballot measure expanding the state's preexisting paid sick leave legislation. Whereas California offers employees a mandatory 24 hours of sick time per year, Oakland will now mandate that employers provide workers with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, although they may cap paid sick time at 40 hours per year.

Meanwhile, two personhood amendments — one in Colorado and the other in North Dakota — were rejected by voters. Citizens of Washington state approved a ballot initiative requiring a criminal background check of anyone who purchases a gun, defeating an opposing measure aimed to head off any expansion of background checks.

NBC News election unit contributed reporting.