Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over with the passage of Amendment 64, which was projected the winner Tuesday after taking a 54 to 46 point lead with 63 percent of precincts counted.
Shortly after the Denver networks projected an Amendment 64 victory, Washington also voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adults by approving Initiative 502. Both measures establish a regulatory and taxation system for marijuana usage, sales and cultivation similar to that of alcohol.
“Over the past eight years in Colorado, we have argued that it is irrational to punish adults for choosing to use a product that is far less harmful than alcohol. Today, the voters agreed,” said Yes on 64 campaign co-director Mason Tvert. “Colorado will no longer have laws that steer people toward using alcohol, and adults will be free to use marijuana instead if that is what they prefer. And we will be better off as a society because of it.”
The Yes on 64 campaign organized a diverse coalition of supporters, including conservative, suburbanites, evangelicals and police. At the same time, the forces against it were formidable, including Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and a slew of other elected officials.
Roger Sherman, campaign director for No on 64, chalked up the defeat in part to the heavy spending of national pro-pot groups led by the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We knew all along this was an uphill battle against a well-funded national movement,” said Sherman. “We appreciate the efforts of Governor John Hickenlooper, former Governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter, Attorney General John Suthers, Mayors Michael Hancock and Steve Hogan and countless other sheriffs, county commissioners, district attorneys and local elected officials who joined with the business community and citizens of Colorado to oppose this ill-conceived amendment.
“We can only hope that our concerns and fears about amending the Constitution to make Colorado the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana do not come true,” said Sherman.
The question now becomes whether federal authorities will agree to allow Colorado to regulate recreational marijuana in defiance of federal laws. The Justice Department said in a 2009 memo that it would take a hands-off approach to states that allow medical marijuana, although that hasn’t stopped federal raids on dispensaries in California and Colorado.
Rob Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project, vowed that Colorado would “show the world what a properly regulated marijuana system looks like.”
“It will serve as a model for other states and, in fact, the rest of the world,” said Kampia. “It is impossible to overstate the significance of this victory.”