The recreational use of marijuana is still very much illegal in all 50 states under DEA mandate, yet some states have decriminalized marijuana or allowed medical marijuana dispensaries. Colorado and Washington are examples of the former phenomenon: both states recently ratified legislation decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.
On the Ground in Seattle
In a recent article by respected news outlet, CNN, photographers and reporters flocked to the Space Needle in Seattle on New Year’s Eve to watch hundreds of marijuana enthusiasts spark their bongs in anticipation of Initiative 502’s effect in the state of Washington. Cultivating and selling marijuana is still illicit in Washington, according to Dan Satterberg, a prosecutor in King County.
Legal and Ethical Concerns
In Washington, prosecutors and drug-friendly citizens alike are bemused at how marijuana can be decriminalized, yet legal availability of marijuana is essentially nonexistent save dispensaries. To wit, Washington citizens are allowed to possess marijuana, but growing or selling marijuana in Washington is still illicit under Washington Initiative 502. Washington Initiative 502 originally came to the legislature by garnering around 250,000 thousand votes among Washington’s citizens. The eventual vote on marijuana decriminalization, however, just eked out a victory: 56% in favor to 44% opposed. The initiative had many sponsors, such as Washington attorneys John McKay and Pete Holmes, but an equal number of vociferous detractors.
The Fine Print
Washington’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 are subtly different in how they parse marijuana decriminalization. Colorado and Washington both seek to eventually decriminalize marijuana such that it may one day be taxed for state revenue. The revenue, subsequently, would be applied to schools and infrastructure in the respective states. As of now, though, Colorado’s Amendment 64 guarantees impunity from prosecution or legal reprisals for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana or cultivating up to six plants. The situation in Washington is less straightforward. Although Washington citizens are not allowed to cultivate or sell marijuana, Washington citizens may possess up to one ounce provided they are of legal age (21).
The foregoing examples of marijuana decriminalization are a microcosm of how democracy in the United States operates. In both Washington and Colorado, marijuana decriminalization bills barely passed, with approximately 55% support in both states. Each bill had its detractors, and both bills just passed muster. Only time will tell how each bill fares but, especially in 2013, Washington and Colorado citizens need to become intimately familiar with what Initiative 502 and Amendment 64 really mean.
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