In November, 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize use of recreational marijuana in their general elections. In Washington, Initiative 502 was supported by 55% of voters, and in Colorado, amendment 64 got 53% of the vote. These landmark pieces of legislation flew in the face of federal laws that continued to ban the use of even medical marijuana. A Rolling Stone article published in April of 2012 reported that the Obama administration, had undertaken over 170 “SWAT-style raids in 9 medical marijuana states resulting in at least 61 federal indictments.” Given the federal government’s continued stance against the legalization of marijuana, the votes put Washington and Colorado in a precarious position. Leaders in both states got to work outlining practices which would allow their constituents to follow the newly-minted laws without getting into trouble with the federal government.
Since that time, the president has taken a few steps into the spotlight on the issue, spurred largely by ever-increasing popular support for legalization of marijuana. In a January 2014 interview with The New Yorker, Obama stated “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” He also described concerns that arrests for marijuana use were disproportionately heaped on individuals of lower socioeconomic status. Of course, Obama made no outright claim that the feds would turn a blind eye to marijuana any time soon, but his message was clear – that he was motivated to stay out of the way of state legalization pushes and to concentrate federal efforts elsewhere.
So, what was in the two legislation landmarks that passed back in 2012, and why was there such a big buzz about them only recently?
Washington’s Initiative 502:
- No more arrests for adults age 21 and older for possessing limited (1 oz of useable MJ, 16 oz of MJ-infused product in solid form, 72 oz of MJ-infused product in liquid form) amounts of marijuana
- Cannot grow marijuana at home unless you are an authorized medical marijuana patient
- Retail outlets allowed to sell marijuana after rulemaking deadline of 12/1/2013 for WA state liquor control board, dept of agriculture, and dept of health
- Cannot use marijuana in public (fine, but not arrest)
- Standard for marijuana impairment while driving (5 ng/ml)
- Marijuana sales taxed at 25%
Colorado’s Amendment 64:
- Adults 21 and older can possess up to 1 oz of useable marijuana
- Adults 21 and older can grow their own marijuana (up to 6 plants, only 3 mature, can give marijuana away to other adults over 21 but cannot sell)
- Illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana (5 ng/ml)
- Marijuana sales will be taxed at a maximum of 15%
What changes have we seen so far?
In Washington, stores selling marijuana are expected to start springing up over the next few months. As such, tax information is not yet available, but state patrol records of DUIs since the legalization of recreational marijuana use are available. They show an interesting picture. This table is pulled from More Pot, Safer Roads published in Forbes on 4/3/14:
In Colorado, marijuana sales are expected to $1B in the next year, with recreational sales estimated at about $610M. The newest budget numbers suggest that the state will collect $100M per year in taxes on the sales. Colorado plans to spend the first $40M it collects on school construction around the state. Following that, $45.5M is slated for youth use prevention, $12.4M for public health, and a number of other measures, including $2.2M for “oral fluid devices” used to test THC levels in saliva.
Only time will tell how all of this shakes out, but WA and CO are paving the way as the rest of the country (and the world) watches from the sidelines.