News / USA

Historic Marijuana Vote Pits States Against US Government

Jeff Swicord
Federal officials have been mostly mute on ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana in the election on November 6. Laws passed in Colorado and Washington will take time to implement. State legislatures must determine the rules for sales, distribution and taxation. Former federal drug officials say the ballot initiatives, which contradict federal law, will be short lived.

A historic moment for supporters of marijuana legalization in the U.S. The states of Colorado and Washington have legalized the possession and sale of marijuana for adult recreational use. The laws put both states on a collision course with federal drug laws.

“The citizens of Colorado and Washington have decided to take the matter into their own hands. And they have seen that prohibition does not work,” said Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Critics of current bans on marijuana argue the laws don’t stop anyone from using the drug, and come at great cost to communities through court expenses and incarceration. According to the FBI, 750,000 people are arrested for possession each year, at a cost of more than $40 billion.  

Jasmine Tyler, director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, compares the marijuana ban to laws that prohibited alcohol use in the U.S. in the 1920s.

“It is the same awe we saw with the toppling of alcohol prohibition, as well. The people knew that the prohibition itself caused more harm and was just ineffective,” said Tyler.

The day after the election, the Justice Department said it was reviewing the ballot initiatives but did not comment on how it will respond. But the statement did say the enforcement of federal drug laws remains unchanged.  

Experts say enforcing the federal laws could be politically awkward for the Obama administration. More Colorado citizens voted for the initiative than for the president. And national polls show a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

“I think polling numbers are as high as they have ever been. And they have risen steadily over the last 10 years. And when you think about the polling numbers for medical marijuana and marijuana, you can’t avoid them anymore,” said Tyler.

Former drug control officials have commented that the victory will be short-lived. They predict the Obama administration will either stop the initiatives up front or challenge the laws in court.

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