Legalizing Marijuana
March 25, 2014
Is marijuana prohibition coming to an end?

Legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use is rapidly gaining favor among the American public, driven by demographic changes and shifting attitudes. Nearly 40 percent of Americans live in states where medical marijuana is legal, and 16 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug. Colorado and Washington just legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and legalization advocates around the country are collecting signatures to get marijuana legalization proposals on the ballot. But despite changing opinions and the flurry of legislative efforts, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and the discrepancy between state and federal laws creates a murky legal area for states, marijuana dispensaries, patients and recreational users.

As photographers record the event, former Marine and Iraq War veteran Sean Azzariti becomes the first person to legally buy marijuana for recreational purposes in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014. (Getty Images/The Denver Post/Joe Amon)   As photographers record the event, former Marine and Iraq War veteran Sean Azzariti becomes the first person to legally buy marijuana for recreational purposes in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014. The state collected $2 million in taxes on the sale of marijuana for nonmedicinal use in January, the first month it was legal. (Getty Images/The Denver Post/Joe Amon)

Colorado revenue officials announced in March that the state collected about $2 million in taxes on $14 million in marijuana sales in January — the world’s first accounting of state revenues available to states from legalizing recreational marijuana. 1 Colorado legalized nonmedicinal marijuana sales in 2012, but the first marijuana dispensary did not open until Jan. 1 of this year. Sales will begin in Washington state — the only other state that has legalized recreational pot — in the coming months. On March 14, the Maryland Senate voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and sent the measure to the House of Delegates. 2

In all, 16 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug. 3 In January, the New Hampshire House became the first state legislative body to approve the retail sale of recreational marijuana. (Colorado and Washington legalized it through ballot initiatives, not legislative action.) The New Hampshire measure then went to the House Ways and Means Committee, which approved it on March 18. The measure now goes back to the full House for approval again. The Senate will take up the measure next, but Gov. Maggie Hassan has promised to veto the measure if it reaches her desk. 4

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