Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana Tuesday, prompting speculation about Amsterdam-style "drug tourism" and a new round of jokes about Colorado's official song, Rocky Mountain High.
But because the ballot measures directly contradict federal law, observers - including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed his state's constitutional amendment - say implementation is uncertain.
"The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," Hickenlooper said. "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."
The Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group that backed the initiatives, told Reuters the outcome in Washington and Colorado - both of which have already approved marijuana for medical use - reflects growing national support for liberalized pot laws. They cite a 2011 Gallup poll that found 50 percent of Americans favored making it legal, versus 46 percent opposed.
But the U.S. Department of Justice reacted to the measure's passage in Colorado by saying its enforcement policies remain unchanged, adding: "We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time." A similar ballot measure failed in Oregon.
The Obama administration has recently pressed an enforcement crackdown against pot dispensaries and greenhouses deemed to be engaged in large-scale drug trade under the pretense of supplying medical cannabis patients in California and elsewhere, Reuters adds.
Under the Colorado and Washington measures, personal possession of up to an ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana would be legal for anyone 21 and older. Cannabis would be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores, a system modeled after one which many states follow for alcohol sales.
The Colorado measure limits cultivation to six marijuana plants per person, but "grow-your-own" pot would be still be banned in Washington. Both states prohibit public use.
Tuesday's vote results are "groundbreaking," says Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. But since no modern jurisdiction has lifted prohibitions on production, possession and distribution of cannabis for recreational use, "there are two big issues: Do the states want a marijuana tourism industry, and if so would the federal government allow it?"
European travel guru Rick Steves, a resident of Edmonds, Wash. and a vocal proponent of that state's successful initiative, said he's "honestly not looking at the tourism aspect...for the immediate future, I don't even see (marijuana) use going up. You can't go out in public (in Washington) with a cocktail or beer, and this won't be any different."
In Colorado, state criminal penalties for possession of marijuana won't disappear until the election is certified, which could take up to two months, reports the Denver Post. "The first recreational stores would be slated to open in January 2014 and would be separate from existing medical marijuana dispensaries," the paper says, adding that "local governments could ban marijuana sales (and) the amendment doesn't spell out the details of how the commercial marijuana industry will be regulated."
Written By: Laura S. Bly, USA Today