People attending an Amendment 64 watch party in a bar celebrate after a local television station announced the marijuana amendment's passage, in Denver, Colo., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. The amendment would make it legal in Colorado for individuals to possess and for businesses to sell marijuana for recreational use. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Voters in Colorado and Washington threw down the gauntlet before the federal government Tuesday, legalizing marijuana for recreational use in defiance of federal law. Though a similar measure failed in Oregon, marijuana reform advocates scored additional victories in Massachusetts, which became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, and in the cities of Detroit and Grand Rapids, which decriminalized personal possession.
The Colorado and Washington referendums promise to usher in a new era of marijuana law, allowing the drug to be sold in stores and taxed similarly to alcohol and tobacco. But they fly in the face of federal marijuana prohibition and a U.S. Department of Justice that has eagerly raided, prosecuted and threatened medical marijuana dispensaries over the past year, in spite of their compliance with state laws.
There’s no question that the federal government will respond to the will of the people; the only questions are how and when. But U.S. Attorneys have already threatened to prosecute government employees for carrying out medical marijuana laws in California, Delaware, New Jersey and elsewhere. If the U.S. Attorneys in Colorado and Washington follow the same path, the showdown could get ugly.
Though the criminal and civil penalties for possession of personal amounts of marijuana will end immediately in Colorado and Washington upon certification of the election results, it will take months for those states to develop the regulations and infrastructure for the commercial sale of pot. That leaves plenty of time for the feds and the states to duke it out.
The New Normal
Colorado’s Amendment 64 allows citizens 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in a locked, enclosed space. The Colorado Center on Law and Policy projects that it will raise $60 million annually in tax revenue and savings, much of which will directly fund the construction of new schools.
Washington’s Initiative 502 also legalizes possession and state-regulated sale, and institutes a new standard for driving under the influence of marijuana. Drivers caught with more than 5ng/ml of active THC in their blood can be found guilty of DUI.
Marijuana reform advocates didn’t win them all, though. In addition to voting down Oregon’s marijuana legalization measure, voters rejected a medical marijuana law in Arkansas. Montana voters also upheld severe restrictions placed on their state’s medical marijuana law by their 2011 legislature.
Do you support marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington? Would you support it in your state?