On Wednesday, the Justice Department said it was reviewing the initiatives but would not comment further on how it would respond to the first attempt by any state to legalize marijuana for reasons other than medicinal purposes. A spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency said that its “enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”
The ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington state are a step beyond the measures that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in the District and 17 states, including Massachusetts, which passed such an initiative Tuesday.
In the run-up to the latest initiatives, the Justice Department was unusually muted about the possible conflicts between federal and state laws, even as former DEA officials called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to publicly oppose the measures.
On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signaled his awareness of the legal conflict with the Justice Department, cautioning voters that the marijuana initiative violates federal law.
“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Hickenlooper 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 gold fish too quickly.”
Colorado Amendment 64 allows individuals 21 and older to buy up to an ounce of marijuana at retail stores that are regulated. Possession of marijuana would be legal, although it would not be legal to use the drug publicly. Washington’s Initiative 502 is similar and allows adults 21 and older to buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; up to a pound of a marijuana-infused product, such as brownies; or up to 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids.
Same-sex marriage was also in the spotlight as several states voted on whether or not to allow it on the state level. According to Dylan Matthews:
Four states considered same-sex marriage ballot referenda on Tuesday, and at least three of them ended up siding with gay rights advocates on the issue. In Maryland, voters ratified the same-sex marriage law signed earlier in the year in that state; a measure to legalize same-sex marriage was leaning ahead in Washington state as of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Maine reversed a 2009 vote that prevented same-sex marriage from being legalized and Minnesota rejected a state constitutional amendment banning it. That means that nine states (Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland and Washington) and D.C. now allow gay, lesbian, and bi couples to marry.