Colorado voters made history Tuesday night, passing a constitutional amendment to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana and becoming the first state in the US to break with marijuana prohibition. Hours later, voters in Washington state followed suit, passing a legalization initiative there, but a similar effort in Oregon came up short.
"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," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "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."
According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, Amendment 64 was leading comfortably with 55% of the vote, compared to 45% voting "no." But an early lead was enough for Amendment 64 supporters and foes alike to call the victory. Rising excitement at Casselman's, the downtown Denver bar where campaign supporters gathered, turned to gleeful pandemonium as Colorado media began calling the result little more than two hours after the polls closed.
"Colorado voters have decided to take a more sensible approach to how we deal with marijuana in this state," said Mason Tvert, director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which had brought together state marijuana reform groups such as SAFER and Sensible Colorado with national reform organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Action, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in a well-organized and well-funded winning campaign.
"Today, the people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation. We will create new jobs, generation million of dollars in tax revenue, and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end."
"I'm so happy we not only did this, we did it right," said MPP's Steve Fox, who had worked closely with Tvert, Vicente, and Yes on 64 spokesperson Betty Aldworth to bring the effort to fruition. "Now, it is legal in the state constitution to possess and grow marijuana. It can't be repealed on a whim; it is permanent. Thirty days from now, any veteran -- any person -- in this state can use marijuana."
"Colorado is the starting point, the tipping point, but it's not the end point," vowed MPP executive director Rob Kampia, who promised to take the effort to more states in the future.
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a staunch opponent of Amendment 64, conceded its victory as well Tuesday night. "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," he said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly."
According to the Washington secretary of state's office , as of 9:28pm Pacific time Tuesday, Initiative 502 was holding a comfortable lead of 55% to 45%. Sponsored by New Approach Washington, the initiative had excited opposition among segments of the pot-smoker and medical marijuana communities, but created a carefully crafted and financially well-backed campaign featuring a series of establishment endorsers.
By contrast, Colorado's Amendment 64 allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which can be mature. It will create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment also requires the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue will be dedicated to building public schools.
"Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow, but Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up," said Nadelmann, noting that the Obama administration had failed to denounce the initiatives. "That bodes well, both states' prospects of implementing their new laws without undue federal interference."
In Oregon, Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), didn't fare so well. As of 11:30pm Pacific time, it was losing 45% to 55%, with 69% of the vote counted.
It came late to the ballot compared to the efforts in Colorado and Washington, could not demonstrate majority support in polls, and, as a result, did not manage to attract substantial funding from outside donors, sealing its fate.
But despite the loss in Oregon, when it comes to passing groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiatives in the United States, two out of three ain't bad.