You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

U.S.

Advertisement

Pot votes set up new drug war: States vs. feds

– First came marijuana as medicine. Now comes legal pot for the people.

Those who have argued for decades that legalizing and taxing weed would be better than a costly, failed U.S. drug war have their chance to prove it, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow pot for recreational use.

While the measures earned support from broad swaths of the electorate in both states Tuesday, they are likely to face resistance from federal drug warriors. As of Wednesday, authorities did not say whether they would challenge the new laws.

Pot advocates say a fight is exactly what they want.

“I think we are at a tipping point on marijuana policy,” said Brian Vicente, co-author of Colorado’s marijuana measure. “We are going to see whether marijuana prohibition survives, or whether we should try a new and more sensible approach.”

Soon after the measures passed, cheering people poured out of bars in Denver, the tangy scent of pot filling the air, and others in Seattle lit up in celebration.

Authorities in Colorado, however, urged caution.

“Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly,” said Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed the measure.

As the initial celebration dies down and the process to implement the laws progresses over the next year, other states and countries will be watching to see whether the measures can both help reduce money going to drug cartels and raise it for governments.

Governments in Latin America were largely quiet about the measures.

Analysts said that there would likely be an impact on cartels in Mexico that send pot to the U.S., but differed on how soon and how much.

Both measures call for the drug to be heavily taxed, with the profits headed to state coffers.

Colorado would devote the potential tax revenue first to school construction, while Washington’s sends pot taxes to an array of health programs.

Estimates vary widely on how much they would raise. Colorado officials anticipate somewhere between $5 million and $22 million a year. Washington analysts estimated legal pot could produce nearly $2 billion over five years.

Both state estimates came with big caveats: The current illegal marijuana market is hard to gauge, and any revenue would be contingent upon federal authorities allowing commercial pot sales in the first place, something that is very much still in question.

Both measures remove criminal penalties for adults 21 and older possessing small amounts of the drug – the boldest rejection of pot prohibition laws passed across the country in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, many more cities either took pot possession crimes off the books or directed officers to make arrests a low priority.

“People think little old ladies with glaucoma should be able to use marijuana. This is different. This is a step further than anything we have seen to date,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who has studied the history of pot prohibition.

The Justice Department says it is evaluating the measures.

Advertisement