Marijuana legalized in Colorado, Washington

A marijuana plant growing at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)
A marijuana plant growing at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Written by: Faine Greenwood

Posted: Nov. 7th, 2012

Six states had marijuana initiatives on their ballots on Tuesday — so how did these often controversial measures fare in the voting booth? On the whole, reasonably well.

Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, the first two US states to make such a decision since the drug began to be restricted by state law in the 1920s and 1930s. 

Washington state, in a move that the Seattle Times described as “to the left of the Netherlands,” approved proposition I-502 by 55 to 45 votes. The measure allows Washingtonians to have up to an ounce of marijuana on their person if they’re over the age of 21. At the same time, a new “drugged driving” law will be implemented.  

What about selling marijuana? That’s covered: Washington’s state liquor board will have a year to figure out the rules state-licensed marijuana stores will operate under. 

That’s a more radical policy than that practiced in the Netherlands, where marijuana is technically a controlled substance — though it’s classified as a “soft” drug, meaning that authorities are willing to look the other way if it’s used or sold.

Colorado also voted to legalize marijuana on Tuesday, voting in Amendment 64 with a decisive 53.5 percent to 46.7 percent split, at least according to the Denver Post as of early Wednesday.

Adults over 21 will be allowed to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana recreationally, and can grow up to six plants in their homes. Users who don’t want to grow their own will be able to visit specially regulated marijuana stores, from which the state will collect tax revenue.

““The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries,” commented Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement.

“This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies.”

There was at least one other, less overtly dramatic victory for the pro-pot set on Tuesday.

Massachusetts voters decided that medical marijuana was to be legalized for certain medical conditions.

Other states decided that they’d rather maintain the status quo, keeping marijuana illegal for the foreseeable future.

Oregon voters voted “no” on Measure 80, which would have permitted adults to both and use and grow marijuana. Oregonians are still allowed to use and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes, a loophole that many users find it rather easy to duck through.

Arkansas voters, perhaps unsurprisingly, struck down a proposal to legalize both the growth and the usage of medical marijuana. Conservatives, according to KAIT8 news, claimed that the measure didn’t make it clear that medicinal users might be subject to federal penalties — a persistent bug-a-boo for marijuana supporters.

Finally, in Tuesday’s marijuana drama, there was Montana, where Initiative 124 sought to impose more restrictions on the use of medical marijuana, already legal there, according to

That regulatory measure appears poised to pass.

More challenges exist for aspirant marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, however.

Federal law doesn’t sync up with state law on the legal use of marijuana, as the drug is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the 1971 Controlled Substances Act, considered to have a “high potential for abuse.”

The White House website lays it out plainly: “Regardless of state laws to the contrary, there is no such thing as “medical” marijuana under Federal law.”

Federal officials have come down hard on medical marijuana growers and users before, and it’s uncertain how they’ll respond to a measure as extreme as those Colorado and Washington just passed.

But the voters have spoken, and on the whole, Tuesday appears to have come down as a victory for advocates of legalized marijuana in the United States.

One thing is absolutely certain: The rest of the nation will be watching Colorado and Oregon as they sort out the intricacies of both legalizing and taxing a formerly controlled — and highly symbolic — substance.