For years, the general public in the United States treated marijuana with the same contempt as other illegal substances such as crack or meth, believing they were all equally dangerous. The tide has slowly been turning, though—first with legal marijuana for medical reasons in several states, and now with approved recreational use in Colorado and Washington. Now that Colorado's dispensaries are up and running, the legalization of cannabis in other states may soon be a reality.
In November 2012, residents of Colorado and Washington voted on initiatives for the legalization of cannabis. Unlike previous measures to legalize marijuana, these initiatives focused on recreational rather than medical use. Amendment 64 in Colorado passed, allowing adults to purchase up to an ounce of legal marijuana at a time and grow up to six plants at home. Washington's Initiative 502 also passed, and it also restricts the amount of legal marijuana an adult can purchase.
Colorado took over a year to get all its regulations in place to open legal marijuana dispensaries in early 2014. Washington has taken even longer; its first dispensaries are not set to open until summer 2014. Despite the long haul from voting to sales, other states haven't been deterred from trying to push through similar legislation. Marijuana proponents in Alaska and Arizona have taken the first steps toward legalization by gathering resident signatures in support of placing the issue on the next ballot. Even though a similar measure failed in 2010, California may get the opportunity to vote again in 2014 due to the filing of the California Hemp Act 2014. Similarly, Oregon voters failed to legalize pot in a recent election, but advocates are already pushing for another vote, and 57 percent of residents now favor legalization efforts.
Colorado stands to generate millions in tax revenue from the sale of legal marijuana, some of which could be used to create healthcare jobs. The first $40 million is earmarked for the construction of schools, with the rest going toward research to study the potentially hazardous health effects of marijuana usage. Some funds will also go toward substance abuse programs to treat addiction.
Since Colorado and Washington passed legal marijuana bills, pundits and observers have been trying to guess which states will follow suit first. Right now, all eyes are on Colorado, the first of the two states to actually start selling legal marijuana. If things go well there and later in Washington, similar initiatives may very well begin passing across the nation shortly.
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