Possession of marijuana would be legal, although it would not be legal to use the drug publicly.
Supporters of the measures in both states argued that they would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, with the funds being used for education, health care and other government services. They also said that the initiatives would give proponents a chance to show that decriminalization of marijuana could benefit the country’s war on drugs.
In Colorado, the measure was supported by more than 300 physicians in the state, including Bruce Madison, the former associate medical director of faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who said that current laws waste “hundreds of millions of dollars in a failed war on marijuana, by ruining thousands of lives by unnecessary arrest and incarceration, and by causing the deaths of hundreds of people killed in black-market criminal activities.”
Opponents of the measures in both states warned of a federal crackdown and unauthorized drug use by children. They also argued that the states could attract “drug tourists.”
A similar proposal legalizing marijuana use was on the ballot in Oregon but did not pass.
In September, nine former DEA administrators wrote a letter to Holder expressing their concerns about the initiatives. The attorney general did not respond.
“To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives,” wrote the former administrators, who oversaw the DEA under Democratic and Republican presidents from 1973 to 2007. “We urge you to take a public position on these initiatives as soon as possible.”
The Justice Department can file suit to try to block state laws that it deems to have violated federal statutes. It did so, for example, after Arizona passed a law in 2010 that the state said was aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants but that the Obama administration believed was unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre would not comment on whether a lawsuit is being considered. “The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives, and we have no additional comment at this time,” Chitre said.