November 28th, 2012
On the same day that Canada implemented harsher penalties for marijuana possession through the Safe Streets and Communities Act, two U.S. states voted in favour of legalizing the drug.
A majority of voters in Washington and Colorado approved initiatives on November 6th, 2012 allowing for personal use and regulation of marijuana for adults 21 and over. In Washington, Initiative 502 passed with 55% in favour. In Colorado, Amendment 64 passed with 53% in favour.
Both statewide measures aim to stop treating adult marijuana use as a crime and pursue a new approach that will allow law enforcement officials to devote their resources to violent and property crimes, generate state revenue for education and health care programs, and take marijuana production and distribution out of the hands of illegal drug organizations. Marijuana use will now be treated similarly to alcohol: with impaired driving laws and a prohibition on smoking the drug in public.
The major difference between the two laws is private possession of marijuana plants. In Washington, the law prohibits growing marijuana plants at home while under the Colorado law, individuals can possess and grow up to three mature plants, as long as they are in an enclosed and locked private space and not for commercial use.
Meanwhile, recreational marijuana use is still prohibited under the federal Uniform Controlled Substances Act, making the enforcement and regulation of these newly passed laws uncertain. The federal government has the option of taking legal action to block the laws, but has not yet made a decision.
The new laws in Washington and Colorado have shed light on the public’s opinion of the war on drugs. A recent poll reveals that 82% of Americans believe the policy is a failure. Prominent U.S. politicians have backed the new laws, urging the federal government to respect the wishes of voters in Washington and Colorado. And most importantly, the laws represent a shift in the public perception of marijuana – from prohibition to acceptance.
For the rest of the world, watching what happens next in Washington and Colorado could pave the way for other countries (and states) to decriminalize marijuana – or it could fizzle out as an interesting, but short-lived experiment.