During the election earlier this month, voters in Colorado approved a ballot measure legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. However, there is some confusion and debateover what the passage of the measure means. Because Marijuana is still a Schedule I drug on the federal level, it is unclear whether national or state law will take precedence. While state police will not be able to arrest individuals over 21 years for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, it is unclear whether or not federal agents will be able to crack down. As Colorado governor John Hickenlooper noted on election night, “federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.”1
Such grey area has existed in Colorado’s cannabis laws since the state legalized medical marijuana in 2000. While dispensaries are legal under state law, they remain illegal entities according to federal law. Now that marijuana has been legalized, it remains to be seen whether the federal government step in and enforce federal drug laws or if they will deal with businesses that sell marijuana for recreational use similarly to how they have dealt with medical dispensaries.
Unfortunately for marijuana advocates in Colorado, many prominent leaders in the state oppose the law and have expressed their belief that the federal government should and will intervene. According to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, “Coloradans should not expect to see successful legal challenges to the ability of the federal government to enforce its marijuana laws in Colorado.”2 However, several prominent national politicians including Ron Paul and Barney Frank have spoken out in support of the measure, arguing that the federal government should respect the will of the voters.3
Only time will tell whether or not the federal government will accept the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. While detractors have argued that “marijuana legalization would increase pot use, especially among young people, and lead to higher rates of drugged driving and substance abuse,”2 marijuana advocates in the state have maintained that full-fledged legalization would bolster Colorado’s economy and help local businesses. Regardless of what happens in the coming months, the passage of measures in Colorado and Washington are landmarks for the legalization movement. It will be interesting to see what happens with national marijuana laws in the coming years.