Colorado and Washington are first states to legalize marijuana - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Colorado and Washington vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use

Marijuana will be legal and available at licensed retailers in Colorado and Washington. (Source: CNN) Marijuana will be legal and available at licensed retailers in Colorado and Washington. (Source: CNN)

(RNN) - It's not medical marijuana. It's not decriminalization. It's completely legal pot - and voters in Colorado and Washington decided they would become the first states in the country to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use, ushering in a huge victory for drug law reform advocates.

The new laws differ in each state, but the cores are the same and will legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and over, require a hefty tax on each sale, and enforce strict DUI laws.

"The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies."

The campaigns to legalize marijuana succeeded in part by deep-pocketed donors. Among the campaigns' many contributors were Peter Lewis, the Progressive Insurance chairman who has been a long-time advocate of marijuana legalization, and Rick Steves, the famous travel writer and PBS host.

The initiatives were also financially backed in part by pro-legalization advocacy groups DPA and the Marijuana Policy Project.

But it was the campaigns' arguments about why marijuana should be legalized that helped win over voters. From reducing the cost of law enforcement and weakening drug cartels to adding much-needed tax revenue in a time when it is needed most, the pros of legalization outweighed the cons.

"It's ridiculous to be trying to maintain the law enforcement effort — all the people, all that money, all those resources — to prosecute marijuana use," said legalization supporter Karla Oman, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Tax it, legalize it, everybody wins."

Groups working against the initiatives, including SMART Colorado, relied primarily on the argument that legalization would increase use among children.

However, that belief was hotly disputed by pro-legalization groups, who said legalization would make acquiring marijuana more difficult because it would require I.D. and therefore decrease use among underage kids - a core component of their overall argument.

Although state law will allow for the sale and purchase of marijuana, federal law still prohibits it, which will make marijuana retailers subject to raids and criminal prosecution by federal authorities.

According to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a group that promotes legalizing medicinal marijuana, the Obama administration has directed the Justice Department to conduct approximately 200 SWAT-style raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states where the drug is legal for medicinal use.

The Justice Department has not said what its stance on the new legalization laws will be, but Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper warned that there could be problems down the road.

"The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," said Hickenlooper, who opposed the marijuana initiative in his state. "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."

In both states, the new laws will begin to take effect on Dec. 6, but full-scale implementation could take as long as a year, depending on how quickly state legislatures work to create licensing bureaus.

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