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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Two States Legalize|Recreational Marijuana

(CN) - Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use and sale of marijuana for adults in ballot measures that voters approved Tuesday.

Initiative 502 in Washington state sought to make the possession and sale of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.

Ballot sponsor New Approach Washington said the state "should stop wasting law enforcement resources on adults who use marijuana, and instead create a tightly regulated system that takes money away from criminal organizations and generates tax revenue for our state and local governments."

Under 502, the state will regulate sale of marijuana in privately owned stores, and create a standard for driving under the influence of pot.

The law includes a 25 percent sales tax on marijuana. Forty percent of the new revenue will go to state and local budgets. The rest of the taxes are to be used for substance abuse prevention, research, education, and health care.

The initiative passed with more than 55 percent of the vote.

The measure had many advocates, including former law enforcement officials and prosecutors who testified that criminalization of marijuana has harmed the state.

A similar initiative passed in Colorado. That state, like Washington and a handful of other states, already allows medical marijuana.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed the measure, which will amend the state constitution. But he said, "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will."

"This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through," Hickenlooper said in a statement." That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly."

Colorado's Amendment 64, legalizing pot, led by 53 percent to 47 percent at midnight.

"Legitimate, taxpaying business people, and not criminal actors, will conduct sales of marijuana," Amendment 64 states.

"Possessing, growing, processing, or transporting no more than six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants" will be legal, "provided that the growing takes place in an enclosed, locked space."

The state has until July 1, 2013 to institute "security requirements for marijuana establishments," "labeling requirements" for "marijuana products," and "restrictions on the advertising and display of marijuana," according to the amendment.

And Colorado must "begin accepting and processing applications" for licenses to run "retail marijuana stores" by Oct. 1, 2013.

The bill sets deadlines for the Department of Revenue to write regulations and administrative processes, and once pot is taxed, "the first $40 million in revenue raised annually by such tax [will] be credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund."

The amendment reserves protections for employers, schools, hospitals, prisons, businesses, and property owners, who retain the right to "regulate the possession, consumption, use, display, transfer, distribution, sale, transportation, or growing of marijuana on or in that property."

And it allows municipal officials to "prohibit the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities or retail marijuana stores through the enactment of an ordinance."

The Obama administration has been using federal authority to shut down medical marijuana clinics in California, despite voter's legalization of the drug as a medicine in that state. So it is unclear what effect the Washington and Colorado initiatives will have.

California in 2010 attempted to pass a measure that would legalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana for adults. Before the election, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government would continue to treat marijuana as an illegal drug.

A ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Oregon did not pass on Tuesday.

And Arkansas voters rejected an initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

(Courthouse News reporters Nick McCann reported from Vancouver, Wash., and Sam Reynolds from Denver.)

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