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Colorado Legalizes Marijuana for Recreational Use and Sale

Colorado becomes one of the first places on earth to legalize the use and sale of marijuana for recreational use. (Photo: Scott Beale)

Voters in Colorado approved a constitutional amendment that made the state the first place in the nation and one of the first in the world to fully legalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The Denver Post reports that Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012, passed with more than 52% of the state’s voters approving the measure.

“Colorado voters have decided to take a more sensible approach to how we deal with marijuana in the state,” Mason Tvert, co-director of Yes on 64, told the Post.

Colorado, which legalized medicinal marijuana in 2000, now becomes the first state in the US to legalize marijuana for recreational sale and use. The amendment’s passage squarely places the state in the position of having the world’s most progressive marijuana law, exceeding even the notoriously lenient Netherlands.

Adults age 21 and over may now legally purchase up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana from state-licensed stores. The cultivation of up to six cannabis plants is also now permitted. Public use of the drug is forbidden. Local governments can ban the sale of marijuana and employers can still prohibit employees from using it.

Voters in Washington state approved I-502, a similar measure that also allows adults to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six cannabis plants.

In Oregon, voters failed to pass Measure 80, a similar measure that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in that state.

The first Colorado marijuana retail stores could open by January 2014.

But marijuana remains very much illegal at the federal level, where it is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. According to the federal government, Schedule I drugs “have a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy. According to the federal government’s scheduling system, marijuana is more dangerous than cocaine, methamphetamine and ketamine.

The glaring discrepancy between marijuana’s newfound legal status in Colorado and its federal Schedule I prohibition could point to a clash with Washington as President Obama, who broke a 2008 campaign promise to take a “hands-off” approach towards states that legalized medicinal marijuana, heads toward his second term.

The US Attorney’s Office in Colorado told the Post that it would not alter its enforcement policy, which currently involves closing medical marijuana dispensaries located near schools and raiding suppliers to black market dealers.

The federal government may also sue potential marijuana retailers in court in the year before they open to the public, as federal statutes trump state laws and amendments.

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