Recreational Marijuana Laws OK'd in CO, WA

By Andrew Lu on November 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Voters in Washington state and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana use. These are the first two states in the nation where voters have decriminalized pot.

The ballot initiatives in these states follow previous, successful efforts by states like California to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

But now, adults over 21 in Washington or Colorado won't need a doctor's prescription to light up -- though it should be noted that recreational marijuana use, like medicinal marijuana use, remains illegal under federal law, Bloomberg reports. That sobering fact prompted Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to caution his citizens not to "break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

In Washington, Initiative 502 won with 55% of the vote, with 45% opposed, according to preliminary results. The new law will take effect Dec. 6, and will allow adults 21 or over to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, reports The Seattle Times. A new "drugged driving" law for marijuana impairment will also take effect then. It is expected to include a zero-tolerance policy for pot smokers under 21.

Washington state's Liquor Control Board will spend the next year developing rules to tax and regulate licensed marijuana stores.

In Colorado, Amendment 64 also won by a comfortable margin. Similar to Washington's new law, those 21 or over will be able to purchase up to 1 ounce of pot at specially regulated retail stores. Possession would be legal, but smoking marijuana in public will still not be allowed, reports The Denver Post.

While reports say that supporters of the new law celebrated by lighting up, parts of the law allowing individual pot use will not take effect until the election is certified, which could take up to two months, writes the Post. Other parts of the law, including retail sales, will take longer to implement. State and local lawmakers will also have to figure out how to regulate and tax the drug.

In 2010, when California voters considered a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use, the federal Justice Department said it would "vigorously" enforce federal law. The Justice Department has not yet issued a comment about yesterday's recreational-pot ballot measures, reports Bloomberg.

With a cloud hanging over the state laws, you may still need a good criminal defense attorney if you get busted for "legal" pot use in these states.

It should also be noted that a pot-legalization measure was also on the ballot in Oregon, but voters there rejected it.

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