The stage is set for an interesting battle between state constitutional law and the federal prohibition against marijuana in Colorado and Washington. In Colorado, voters approved an amendment legalizing recreational marijuana use. Voters in Washington state approved a similar measure, but in Oregon a legalization issue failed.
For Colorado, the amendment will allow those 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of the drug at specially regulated retail stores. Adults will be permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. Possession will now be legal but public use of marijuana is prohibited.
But the new laws clearly fly in the face of federal drug law, which regulates it as an illegal substance. Federal authorities have not said how they will respond. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, an vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, told reporters he would respect the will of the voters on Amendment 64 but believes that the federal prohibition will prevail.
The measure will take effect as soon as the final vote is certified sometime before the end of the year. The first recreational stores would be opened in January 2014 and would be separate from existing medical marijuana dispensaries. Local governments could ban marijuana sales, and employers could still bar employees from using the drug.
The amendment doesn't spell out the details of how the commercial marijuana industry will be regulated. The state Department of Revenue will oversee the marijuana shops, presumably in a manner similar to the state's system overseeing medical-marijuana businesses.