States legalize marijuana use

Colorado, Washington permit recreational drug usage; Montana tightens medical marijuana regulations

As voters in Colorado and Washington reelected Barack Obama Tuesday night, they also passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana, while, in Massachusetts, voters chose to legalize medical marijuana.

Voters in Oregon, meanwhile, rejected a measure to legalize the substance, and in Montana, a referendum banned the use of medical marijuana.

In Washington adults older than 21 will be legally able to carry an ounce or less of marijuana, said Kevin Oliver, the executive director of the Washington affiliate of National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

Montana voters, on the other hand, chose a different course, deciding to change the law to place greater restrictions on marijuana, a reversal from the legalization of medical marijuana voters passed in 2004. State Senator Jeff Essman, a supporter of the current referendum, said the previous law had been misused. The 2004 law had fewer restrictions on growing marijuana for patients, and the new law cuts qualifying conditions and reduces storefronts, Fox said.

“[The people] did not like the store fronts,” Essman said. “They did not vote for a recreational program.”

The new state laws legalizing marijuana do not overrule the existing federal criminalization, leaving questions about what states can do, Center for Politics spokesperson Geoff Skelley said.

“What it means, is that state law enforcement will not pursue recreational or personal use of marijuana, [but it] … can’t stop federal law enforcement,” Skelley said. “State law can’t preempt federal law, [so I’m] not entirely sure how it works.”

The placement of these initiatives on the ballot during the presidential election may have affected the results, Skelley said.

“In a presidential election [legalization is more likely to pass] because voters skew [to be] younger and more diverse,” Skelley said. “If you are a Democratic operative in Colorado, put[ting] marijuana legalization on [the presidential] ballot is great way to get more young people to turn out.”

But even if the measures were helped along by a more diverse voting base, these most recent decriminalizations merely reflect growing trends in public opinion, Skelley said.

“There is a general trend in this country slowly but surely towards the increased legalization of marijuana,” he said. “Legalizing medical marijuana can be seen as the first step to going beyond that and doing what Colorado did.”

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