While you were watching to see whether Romney or Obama won Ohio, both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use on Tuesday. We're not talking about making medical marijuana legal or decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot. These two states just gave the green light to an entirely new industry including but not limited to the large scale production, distribution and sale of marijuana. Just like in Amsterdam, only more comprehensive.
There's only one problem: Marijuana is still illegal at a federal level. Ever since states started to legalize medical marijuana in the 1990s, state and federal authorities have locked horns over the enforcement of drug laws. It was entirely legal from the states' point of view for folks to run commercial marijuana farms and to set up medical marijuana dispensaries. The DEA, however, has continued to raid farms and dispensaries, leaving many to wonder if the latest marijuana initiatives will fly on a federal level.
Generally speaking, we'll have to wait and see. In both states, it's going to be a number of months before shops actually start to sell pot. When they do -- based on the legislation that voters approved on Tuesday -- the tax revenue generated will go towards important things like improving schools. Attorney General Eric Holder hasn't said yet how exactly he plans to deal with the new state provisions, but if history is any indication, he's not going to give them a free pass.
We doubt any of this news is going to get the potheads of Colorado and Washington down. Supporters of the measures have poured millions of dollars into the campaign to get them passed, and they've succeeded in two out of the three states that had legalization on the ballot. Additionally, Massachusetts legalized marijuana for medical use. No matter what the federal government does, nobody can deny that there's momentum behind the movement to legalize pot. Then again, a lot of people probably said the same thing back in the 1970s when Oregon became the first state to decriminalize pot. Forty years later, voters have legalized pot completely in two states. At this rate we should be able to buy packs of joints by the 22nd century.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.