Colorado became the second US state to legalize marijuana for recreational use Monday, as its governor signed a voter-backed proposal into law.
But justice officials warned that smoking pot for fun remains against federal law, reflecting the clouds around the the issue of legalizing the drug, favored by a growing number of Americans.
Days after Washington state’s pot smokers celebrated the first such law, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed an order legalizing personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana for adults aged at least 21.
Colorado voters backed Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana use on November 6, in one of many state referendums held on the same day as the White House election that saw President Barack Obama secure a second term.
Hickenlooper — who on referendum day quipped that pot smokers should not “break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly” — had 30 days from the election date to sign it into law.
But he also warned: “It is still illegal under state law to buy or sell marijuana in any quantity and to consume marijuana in public or in a way that endangers others.”
Federal US law still bans marijuana for recreational use, clouding the issue for the two western states that have legalized it. Pot use for medicinal purposes is already legal in about 20 US states.
A growing number of Americans favor legalizing cannabis. A Quinnipiac University poll last week said 51 percent favored legalization, with 44 percent against.
Hickenlooper, acknowledging the legal gray areas, announced the creation of a task force on implementing Amendment 64.
US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh meanwhile underlined the risk of federal legal action — in both his state and Washington — shortly after Hickenlooper’s announcement.
He noted that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance considered to have a high potential for abuse.
Washington’s neighbor Oregon also held a referendum on legalizing recreational marijuana on November 6, but its residents rejected the proposal by 55 percent to 45 percent.