Changing Marijuana Laws In Washington State.
For supporters of legalizing marijuana, it was a historic moment, one that drew comparisons to the end of Prohibition: On Tuesday, voters changed the Marijuana Laws in Washington State and Colorado and made it legal to smoke pot recreationally, without any prescription or medical excuse.
But as Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado cautioned voters on Tuesday night: “Don’t break out the Cheetos or the Goldfish too quickly.”
For one thing, it will be a month before the measures are officially on the books, and longer still before state officials write the rules, tax codes and other regulations creating new state-licensed retail marijuana shops. But the larger, looming problem is a clash with the federal government, which still views marijuana as a Schedule I prohibited substance and has cracked down on states, like California and Montana, that have voted to allow medical marijuana.
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency said the Justice Department was reviewing the ballot measures and declined to comment directly on how officials would respond to them. But he said the agency’s enforcement of federal drug laws “remains unchanged.” The United States attorneys in Denver and Seattle responded with nearly identical statements, offering no clue on whether they would sue to block the measures from being put into effect.
It is a murky landscape now, one that potentially pits voters who supported President Obama and legalization against the president’s own Justice Department. In 2010, weeks before California voted on an unsuccessful initiative to legalize marijuana, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that authorities would still aggressively prosecute marijuana laws.
But that has not always been the case. In Colorado, the federal government has largely allowed the state-regulated medical-marijuana industry to operate, and supporters said they hoped the government would take a similar laissez-faire stance as the new laws took effect.
“I don’t see D.E.A. agents sweeping into Colorado and Washington and enforcing drug laws that were previously enforced by local agencies,” said Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief who campaigned for the Washington measure despite a personal preference for dry martinis over pot brownies. “It would be extremely poor politics. The will of the people has been expressed.”
Although elected officials, parents’ groups and top law enforcement figures opposed the measures, they nevertheless won support with voters who saw little harm with regulating marijuana similarly to the way alcohol is. Colorado’s marijuana law passed with 54 percent support, and Washington’s with 55 percent.
Changing Marijuana Laws In Washington State and Colorado
Colorado and Washington are among 18 states with medical marijuana laws, but they become the first in the nation to approve the use for recreational purposes. A similar measure in Oregon failed on Tuesday.
As soon as the laws are certified, it will be legal under Colorado and Washington law for adults 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. In Colorado, people will be able to grow as many as six plants. In Washington, users will have to buy their marijuana from state-licensed providers.
“They can’t arrest you for it, and they can’t seize it,” Mr. Stamper said. “It’s yours.”
The measures will also set up regulations for industrial hemp, a fibrous plant that contains traces of the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
The laws do not allow people to light up in public, and cities and counties will be able to block marijuana retailers, in much the same way that blue laws have restricted alcohol sales for decades. And it remains illegal to drive a motor vehicle while high on the drug.
Supporters say the laws will end thousands of small-scale drug arrests while freeing law enforcement to focus on larger crimes. They estimate that taxing marijuana will bring in millions of dollars of new revenue for governments, and will save court systems and police departments additional millions.
Opponents warned that the law would set Colorado and Washington on a collision course with the federal government and encourage teenagers to use marijuana.
It is still unclear how much will change. The streets here in Denver and across Colorado are already lined with shops, their windows decorated with green crosses and pot leaves, advertising all-natural plant treatments and herbal health aids.
“Coloradans are accustomed to having this stuff above ground, supervised by state authorities and having it regulated,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported legalization.
To advocates, the real power of the measures’ passage may be that they signal a change in the way voters think about drugs and drug policy in the United States.
Brian Vicente, a leading campaigner for the Colorado initiative, summed it up this way: “It’s a historic one, man.”