So far, the US Department of Justice has not commented on what steps it might take against either state.
“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time,” Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre told CBS News last week, referring to the Colorado measure.
An amendment will be added to the constitution of each state by January, but it will take time before lawmakers can create a regulatory system to establish how and where the drug can be sold, a process that may go into 2014.
“There’s no reason for the Feds to do anything instantly. There is time right now for consultation and deliberation for how to best proceed and for the states to persuade the federal government to give this time to develop,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group based in New York City that helped campaign for the measures in Colorado and Washington.
Clues into how the Justice Department will approach the issue are in how it has dealt with state laws governing the sale of marijuana for medicinal use. Last week, Massachusetts became the 18th state since 1996 to legalize marijuana for health purposes. No individual has yet faced federal prosecution for personal use, but legal challenges in federal court have been waged in most states with medical marijuana laws on the books.
To what extent federal authorities crack down on states may depend on the strength of the regulatory system each has put into place, Mr. Nadelmann says. For example: California, the first state to pass the law, has the least developed system in place, leaving regulation to individual cities.