Colorado voted to legalize smoking marijuana Tuesday, but the governor warned tokers not to "break out the Cheetos or Goldfish" just yet, since the federal government still takes a dim view of pot.
The Centennial State joined Washington in becoming the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana Tuesday night, setting up a battle between the states and the federal government, which prohibits use of the drug. The historic votes were among a host of decisions on ballot initiatives that will shape state-level policy on everything from recreational drug use to same-sex marriage. But Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed the marijuana measure, said the federal government still considers marijuana taboo, so breaking out the bong could be premature.
“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Hickenlooper said. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”
The Colorado measure has sparked a national debate about marijuana policy, with supporters pushing for the federal government to end marijuana prohibition nationwide. The Colorado measure states adults over 21 can possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or six marijuana plants, for personal use. Opponents have said it will make the state a haven for drug tourists.
The measure in Washington State, Initiative 502, will legalize and regulate the production, possession and distribution of marijuana for residents age 21 and older.
The new law will impose a 25 percent tax rate on marijuana when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells it to the retailer and when the retailer sells it to the customer. The measure could bring in $500 million, a figure analysts dispute.
Voters in Oregon, where the pro-marijuana advocates were less organized and poorly funded, defeated a ballot measure that would have allowed the commercial growth and sale of marijuana to adults. Known as Measure 80, it would have legalized pot through state-licensed stores, allowed unlicensed growth and use of marijuana by adults and prohibit restrictions on pot.
In Arkansas, voters rejected a measure legalizing medical marijuana, while in Massachusetts, voters supported a similar measure. Massachusetts also voted on a physician-assisted suicide measure, but that result was too close to call early Wednesday.
Maine and Maryland residents approved same-sex marriage, giving the gay rights movement its latest victories. Washington voters also voted on a same-sex marriage measure, but the results are not yet known because voters there had to mail in their decisions. In Minnesota voters were deciding on a proposal to ban gay marriage in the state constitution.
Maine’s ballot measure signaled the first time that gay-rights supporters put the issue to a popular vote.
In both Maryland and Washington, gay-marriage laws were approved by lawmakers and signed by the governors earlier this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to challenge the laws.
In Minnesota, the question was whether the state would join 30 others in placing a ban on gay marriage in its constitution. Even if the ban is defeated, same-sex marriage would remain illegal in Minnesota under statute.
Gay marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia – in each case the result of legislation or court orders, not by a vote of the people.
In Maryland, students brought to the United States illegally as children, won their fight to obtain in-state tuition breaks at the state's public colleges and universities. It also helps some illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in Maryland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.