SEATTLE (AP) — Washington joined Colorado in voting to become the first states to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana for recreational use, but people shouldn't expect to be able to buy a bag of legitimate weed any time soon.
Though Washington's Initiative 502 decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana beginning Dec. 6, the state has a year to come up with rules governing the growing, processing and labeling of pot before sales to adults over 21 can begin.
In addition, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, so the big question is whether the federal government will allow the measures in Washington and Colorado to take effect without a fight. The Justice Department is offering no enlightenment on that front.
"The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," read identical statements issued by the U.S. attorney's offices in Denver and Seattle. "The department is reviewing the ballot initiative here and in other states and has no additional comment at this time."
State laws can be ruled invalid when they "frustrate the purpose" of federal law, and the DOJ could sue to try to block the measures from taking effect on those grounds.
"We have a lot of work ahead," said Alison Holcomb, campaign manager for the Washington initiative. "The biggest issue I-502 presents for the federal government is that we are creating a robust regulatory scheme."
Initiative 502 calls for a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults over 21 can buy up to an ounce of marijuana. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.
Home-growing marijuana for recreational reasons remains barred, as does the public display or use of pot.
That didn't stop some supporters from celebrating Tuesday night with joints on a sidewalk outside the campaign party in downtown Seattle.
"I've been selling pot for 38 years," said supporter Ben Schroeter. "I've been busted multiple times, most recently eight days ago. Prohibition is stupid."
With 50 percent of precincts reporting, the Washington measure was passing with 55 percent of the vote. Colorado also approved recreational use, while a measure in Oregon was defeated.
State financial experts estimate Washington's initiative could raise nearly $2 billion in tax revenue over the next five years, with the money going toward education, health care, substance abuse prevention and basic government services.
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