Marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington for recreational use, and possibly in Oregon as well.
While the decision in Colorado is historic, it was not without controversy: The measure won by a close six-point margin, 53% in favor to 47% opposed. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was an ardent opponent to the legalizaiton of recreational marijuana use, and reacted to the decision in the following statement: “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.”
Proponents of the initiative argued that pot is safer than alcohol, and that the legal sale of marijuana could rake in $45 to 100 billion in tax revenue, according to Bloomberg. The government will also save an estimated $14 billion in cannabis-related costs in fighting the war on drugs.
Massachusetts and Arkansas have also passed ballot initiatives allowing use of marijuana for medical purposes. These are two of the six states debating medical marijuana laws in 2012, a concept already accepted in around a third of US states. In California, a state often seen at the vanguard of the medical marijuana movement, there are more than 1,000 pot dispensaries in operation. It is also estimated that there are more facilities that sell medical marijuana in Colorado than there are Starbucks coffeehouses.
While nearly two-thirds of US states support some form of cannabis legalization and taxation, there still some obstacles to overcome before pot advocates can fully celebrate. Pot is still illegal at the federal level. It is widely believed that after the first state moves towards legalization for recreational marijuana use, a fight with federal law enforcement will ensue. Now that that gauntlet has been thrown down, all eyes turn to US Attorney General Eric Holder to see how the Obama administration will proceed. It remains to be seen how the controversial war on drugs will play out in areas where state and federal laws are in conflict.