Historic votes in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational use of marijuana have fired up California advocates to go before the state’s voters again sometime in the next four years but nobody’s breaking out the party bongs just yet.
Although legalization in the two other Western states is encouraging to pot fans, it doesn’t erase significant hurdles in the Golden State.
The federal government still opposes legalization, medical-marijuana clubs are still being shut down throughout the state, and most polls still have support for casual pot smoking at 50 percent at best.
The U.S. Justice Department, which has forced the closure of hundreds of medical marijuana operations around California in the past year, didn’t come right out and say it would sue to overturn the recreational-use laws that Colorado and Washington voters approved Tuesday, the first ever in the country. But it came close.
“The department’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," said Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre, who noted that the federal law classifies marijuana as a dangerous, illegal drug.
Marijuana proponents say such adamancy is just a dying gasp of a failed antimarijuana policy that wastes law enforcement resources in crackdowns on a substance no more harmful than beer.
“Tuesday was the tipping point," said Stephen DeAngelo, co-founder of the nation’s biggest medical cannabis dispensary, Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif. “Legalization is going to be unstoppable now. This is a very clear signal to the Obama administration that it’s time to end this crackdown on cannabis."
DeAngelo and the city of Oakland have been fighting federal efforts to shut his dispensary since July, and he spent this week in Washington and Colorado supporting the pro-pot efforts.
“The margin of victory in Colorado and Washington show that these new laws were clearly not passed by only the cannabis community," he said. “People who don’t even like cannabis voted in favor because they recognize that prohibition is damaging."
Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed with 54.6 percent of the vote. Washington’s Initiative 502 won with 55.4 percent. Both allow anyone 21 or older to buy up to one ounce of marijuana, and authorize state officials to set up regulations for sales and taxation which is expected to fetch millions of dollars in revenue.
California pot advocates’ effort in 2010 to legalize marijuana, Proposition 19, failed with 46 percent of the vote, and a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll in May showed public opinion still mirrors that split.
However, a national Gallup poll last year put support for legalizing pot at 50 percent for the first time in its history, and a Rasmussen Reports survey in May put support nationally at 56 percent.