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Marijuana Legalization: Colorado and Washington State Grapple With Implementing New Laws

Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana in last November’s election. However, what has happened in those states since the election? Have retail pot shops popped up on every corner? Are marijuana users smoking everywhere, or have federal raids dramatically increased? Hardly

In Colorado, the immediate effect of Amendment 64 has been the legalization of the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. In addition, individuals may also grow up to six plants for personal use. However, commercial marijuana stores will not open until 2014, after the state legislature determines how to regulate them. And in some areas, such as Douglas County, recreational pot sales will be banned under local ordinances. Nor does legalized possession mean that adults can light up just anywhere. Smoking pot in public spaces, such as in parks or on sidewalks, remains illegal.

Similarly, in Washington, Initiative 502 legalized possession and personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana for adults 21 and up. Similar to the situation in Colorado, “the consumption of marijuana in public spaces and driving under the influence of marijuana” remains illegal. Furthermore, legal sales will not begin until after Washington’s State Liquor Control Board sets up “a licensing system for the manufacture and sale of marijuana” by December 2013.

However, the federal government’s response to these measures remains uncertain at this point. Despite the statewide legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, its “use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.” There has been speculation about legal action against the measures approved by voters, but no lawsuits have yet been filed. The administration’s official response has been simply to state that “it is clear that we're in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.”

So far, the greatest change that has occurred following the passage of recreational marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington has been the ability for individuals over the age of 21 to legally (by state law anyway) possess and use pot in those states. Sales are not yet legal, and the status of these measures as far as the federal government is concerned remains unclear. However, these two states could end up being the pioneers of marijuana legalization.

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