Washington and Colorado are paving the way to notable change in the country and its drug laws. In Washington State, the legalization of marijuana went into effect on December 5. In Colorado, pot became legal on January 5. The new laws legalize recreational use for adults age 21 and up. In Washington, adults may possess up to an ounce of marijuana and smoke it in private. Smoking in public will continue to be treated the same as public intoxication and can lead to a fine.
Before legalization of marijuana was put before voters In Washington, there was notable concern for the potential negative impacts in the state. One issue is the possible detriments to health, including a possible connection between marijuana use and development of severe neuropsychological impairments such as schizophrenia. Evidence on this link is rather limited, but legalization could lead to more research in this area. Besides causing schizophrenia, it appears that schizophrenics may also be drawn toward marijuana use, possibly as an attempt to self-medicate. The long-term effects of legal marijuana on people with mental health and substance abuse issues remains to be seen.
Another issue will be how easy it is to obtain marijuana. Although possession of marijuana has been decriminalized in Washington State, selling marijuana is still against the law. State-owned liquor stores have been shuttered to cut costs and allow others take over the market. Within a year the state is expected to have licensing established so that these same stores can sell marijuana. Prohibiting sales to minors, which is currently required for alcohol and cigarettes, will be required for marijuana.
Perhaps the greatest issue related to sale of legal marijuana in Washington is the fact that pot possession is still illegal under federal law. Residents of Washington can theoretically still be arrested by federal agents for using or selling marijuana. The drug will continue to be banned at national parks and on military bases in the state. Another potential issue is for retailers themselves, as federal prosecutors have already gone after medical dispensaries in Washington. This could discourage state-regulated sources for marijuana and limit the additional tax revenue that the state was planning to gain pot legalization.