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States Where Marijuana is Legal

Colorado and Washington Become First States to Legalize Recreational Pot Use


Cannabis Plant
Dmitriy Norov/Vetta/Getty Images

There are two states where marijuana is legal for recreational use and without a prescription from a doctor in the United States. They are Colorado and Washington. Voters in those two states passed measures legalizing the use of marijuana in Election 2012.

See Also: Pros and Cons of Marijuana Legalization

Both states had previously allowed the medical use of marijuana. They become the first states in the nation to legalize recreational use of the substance.

Colorado Marijuana Legalization

The ballot initiative in Colorado was called Amendment 64. The proposal passed with support from 55.3 percent of voters in that state on Nov. 6, 2012.

The amendment to the state constitution allows any resident over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce, or 28.5 grams, of marijuana. Residents can also grow a small number of marijuana plants under the amendment. It remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public.

In addition, individuals are not able to sell the substance themselves in Colorado. Marijuana is legal for sale only by state-licensed stores similar to those in many states that sell liquor. The first such stores are expected to open in 2014, according to published reports.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, officially proclaimed marijuana legal in his state on Dec. 10, 2012. "If the voters go out and pass something and they put it in the state constitution, by a significant margin, far be it from myself or any governor to overrule. I mean, this is why it’s a democracy, right?" said Hickenlooper, who opposed the measure.

Washington Marijuana Legalization

The ballot measure approved in Washington was called Initiative 502. It was very similar to Colorado's Amendment 64 in that it allows state residents ages 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The measure passed with the support of 55.7 percent of voters in the state.

The Washington ballot initiative also put in place substantial tax rates imposed on growers, processors and retailers. The tax rate on recreational marijuana at each stage is 25 percent, and the revenue goes to state coffers.

Federal Reaction to Legal Pot

After the ballot measures legalizing pot in those two states were approved, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said it would continue to prosecute those who violate the Controlled Substances Act.

"In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I control[ed] substance. The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives and we have no additional comment at this time," the DEA said in a prepared statement to the media.

President Barack Obama was in office when Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana. He said his administration would not pursue federal prosecutions against users in those states. "We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said in a December 2012 interview with ABC News.

Added Obama, who has admitted smoking marijuana in college: "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal."

Obama said called the discrepancy between federal law and state law in Colorado and Washington a "tough problem." "I head up the executive branch," he told ABC News. "We're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, How do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?"

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