On Tuesday Colorado and Washington voters became the first states to pass referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D), who opposed Amendment 64, conceded defeat with a caveat: “The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”
Still, the elimination of penalties for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana (for persons 21 and older) takes effect as soon as Gov. Hickenlooper signs a proclamation certifying the results of the election—which he is required to do within 30 days
The big takeaway, as Jacob Sullum at Reason points out, is that adults in bothstates don't have to worry nearly as much about being busted for possession because the vast majority of arrests are made by state and local police.
Scot Kersgaard of The Colorado Independent broke down legalization in Colorado:
• It will be legal under Colorado law for adults to possess, grow, consume and give away (to another adult) up to an ounce of marijuana.
• Marijuana would be legally available for commercial sale no sooner than late 2013 or early 2014 as state, local and commercial regulations are adopted.
• The Feds could do nothing, move to block implementation, or wait until legal businesses are set up and then move to shut them down and arrest employees.
• As we noted, individual users have less to worry about, but toking in public and driving high are still illegal and employers can still test for marijuana if they choose.
• People growing their own could have up to six plants—with no more than three being mature at any given time—in secured areas not visible to the public, and growers will be able to possess their entire harvest (even if it exceeds the legal one ounce).
Kersgaard also details how legalization is projected to be a boon in regards to tax revenue, and notes that the first $40 million a year generated by the excise tax of up to 15 percent will go to a state fund for the construction of public schools.
Initiative 502 in Washington state is not as expansive but does legalize, regulate and tax sales of small amounts of marijuana to adults. The tax is a hefty one, imposing a 25 percent tax rate on the product three times: when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells it to the retailer, and when the retailer sells it to the customer.
The Seattle PI notes that the initiative contains a one-year rule-making procedure, so “there is no need for precipitous action” by the federal drug bureaucracy and the state has "breathing space that allows for adult conversation at all levels,” according to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.
All in all, this is a big win for the states and proponents of legalization.
In the new book "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know," drug policy scholars note that the "Constitution does not allow the federal government either to order state governments to create any particular criminal law or to require state and local police to enforce federal criminal laws."
AND it won't really be a viable option for the Drug Enforcement Agency and their 5,000 agents nationwide to pick up the state and local slack by busting a lot of people who possess dope for recreational use or even those who grow pot for themselves and their friends.
Sullum points out that the DEA "can raid state-legal pot shops, as it has done with medical marijuana dispensaries, but the number of potential targets will be considerably larger once the market officially expands to include recreational users."