- * Measures allow adults over age 21 to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from heavily-regulated stores
- * An even more liberal measure failed to pass in Oregon
- * Fifteen other states an the District of Columbia allow medical use of drug
- * Opponents say legalization will lead to more impaired driving and more children abusing marijuana
Voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized the recreational use of marijuana last night, placing the drug nearly on par with alcohol and cigarettes for the first time in U.S. history.
For the first time, residents of both states will soon be able to walk into dispensaries and purchase up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use -- no prescription required. Users only have to prove they are at least 21.
Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have approved marijuana for medical use, but it requires a doctor's prescription and certification that it will be used to treat a chronic health condition.
The ballot measures in the two western states defy the federal government, which still views marijuana as a controlled substance. It is unknown how the Obama Administration will handle the state laws -- which are still superseded by the federal prohibition.
The Justice Department could potentially sue the states and block the laws entirely.
Federal officials have stayed silent on the issue during the election, though they have taken only small steps to crack down on state-sanctioned dispensaries and growers in places like California
'Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly,' Colorado Gov John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed legalization, warned supporters celebrating their victory.
Passed: Three states had the legalization of recreational marijuana on their ballots, measures that would set up a direct challenge to federal drug law
Opponents say legalizing marijuana will result in more abuse of the drug by children, as well as increased numbers of impaired who get behind the wheel under the influence.
In Washington, Initiative 502 passed by a massive 10-pount margin, 55 percent to 45 percent. It allows adults over age 21 to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from heavily-taxed state-run drug dispensaries.
Supporters poured money into the campaign, raising more than $6million, some which is spent on TV ads.
Colorado's Amendment 64 passed 53 to 47 percent. Colorado residents over age 21 will be able to purchase up an one ounce of the drug from heavily-regulated, privately-run retail stores. It's also legal to grow up to six marijuana plants.
Voters in Oregon rejected a marijuana-legalization bill that was even more liberal than those proposed in Washington and Colorado. It trailed by 10 percentage points and was roundly rejected in most counties last night.
Massachusetts voters approved the medical use of marijuana last night, though voters in Arkansas rejected a similar measure.
'Today the state of Washington looked at 70 years of marijuana prohibition and said it's time for a new approach,' said Alison Holcomb, manager of the campaign that won passage of Initiative 502 in Washington.
BLAZING THE TRAIL: ACCEPTANCE OF MARIJUANA IS GROWING
The marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington will likely pose a headache for the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which consider pot an illegal drug.
The DOJ has declined to say how it would respond if the measures were approved.
Colorado's Amendment 64 will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, though using the drug publicly would be banned. The amendment would allow people to grow up to six marijuana plants in a private, secure area.
Washington's measure establishes a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and stores, where adults can buy up to an ounce. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.
The Washington measure was notable for its sponsors and supporters, who ranged from public health experts and wealthy high-tech executives to two former top Justice Department's officials in Seattle, U.S. Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer.
'Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow,' said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the co-called 'war on drugs.' 'But Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up.'
Estimates show pot taxes could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but the sales won't start until state officials make rules to govern the legal marijuana industry.
The Washington measure was opposed by Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.
'Legalizing is going to increase marijuana use among kids and really create a mess with the federal government,' Franklin said. 'It's a bit of a tragedy for the state.'
NEW LAWS WILL TAX AND REGULATE MARIJUANA... BUT WILL THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT STEP IN?
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