DENVER — When it comes to legalized pot, Coloradans are still holding their breath.
Three weeks after votes were cast, state recreational smokers are waiting and watching warily for the Obama administration’s reaction to Amendment 64, which made the Centennial State one of just two in the nation where lighting up in small amounts for personal pleasure is no longer a state crime.
With the issue of federal and state treatment of marijuana use stuck in a legal limbo, even some of the same Colorado lawmakers who opposed Amendment 64 are now calling on federal authorities to respect the will of the voters on recreational marijuana use. The initiative, which permits adults 21 and older to possess one ounce or less, passed by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent in the Nov. 6 election. Voters in Washington state approved a similar measure the same day.
Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Attorney General John W. Suthers, a Republican, both fought Amendment 64, but now they are working to implement the measure. Both have contacted the U.S. Justice Department for guidance on how to proceed with enacting a voter-approved law that legalizes a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
“We need to know whether we can expect any different posture regarding marijuana grown and distributed for recreational use,” says the Nov. 14 letter signed by Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Suthers. “Specifically, we need to know whether the federal government will take legal action to block implementation or whether it will seek to prosecute grow and retail operations.”
In the wake of the Colorado and Washington state votes, the Justice Department made clear that its resolve to enforce federal drug laws “remain unchanged.” The federal Controlled Substances Act lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and has no accepted medical use. Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.
Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, introduced a bill last week that carves out an exception to federal law for states that approve adult marijuana use. The bill’s co-sponsors include Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, another of those who opposed Amendment 64.
“I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana,” Mr. Coffman said in a statement, “but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation.”
Mason Tvert, the longtime Colorado marijuana advocate who served as campaign director for the “Yes on 64” campaign, said he was heartened by the response of the state’s lawmakers.
“It’s wonderful to see our elected officials at every level of government working together to get this implemented,” Mr. Tvert said.
Local law enforcement also has jumped on the postvote bandwagon, with a half-dozen officials announcing that they will no longer pursue cases involving adult possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said he will dismiss about 50 pending cases, while Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner plans to stop issuing tickets and making arrests in cases involving adults 21 and older. The impact is expected to be minimal, given that marijuana abuse was a low priority already.
A forum of marijuana activists this week found some sharp divisions between those urging a go-slow policy as the state officials consider regulations and those who say pot smokers should build on the momentum of the vote.
“We cannot give up what we won,” said attorney Christian Sederberg, one of the legalization campaign’s chief organizers, according to an account in The Denver Post. “We cannot kowtow and lose what we got because we’re afraid of federal intervention.”
One locale that isn’t changing its approach to marijuana possession just yet is Weld County. District Attorney Ken Buck, a spokesman for the anti-64 campaign, said his office “has an obligation to prosecute offenses that were crimes at the time they occurred.”
“Accordingly, we will not be dismissing existing marijuana possession cases,” said Mr. Buck in a statement. “But more importantly, our office prosecutes low-level possession cases to get drug users help with their addictions. That practice will continue until state law changes.”
• Jerry Seper contributed to this report in Washington.