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From 'no' to 'yes,' how Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana

A day many thought they would never see has come and gone. In November, after years of, 'Just say no,' Colorado and Washington state both voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21. 

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Travel guide author and marijuana legalization supporter Rick Steves holds a campaign sign in his office in Edmonds, Wash next to a door covered with marijuana leaf-shaped notes from his staff congratulating him on the passage of a referendum legalizing marijuana in the state on Nov. 26.

Elaine Thompson/AP

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In the late-1980s heyday of the anti-drug "Just Say No" campaign, a man calling himself "Jerry" appeared on a Seattle talk radio show to criticize U.S. marijuana laws.

An esteemed businessman, he hid his identity because he didn't want to offend customers who — like so many in those days — viewed marijuana as a villain in the ever-raging "war on drugs."

Now, a quarter century later, "Jerry" is one of the main forces behind Washington state's successful initiative to legalize pot for adults over 21. And he no longer fears putting his name to the cause: He's Rick Steves, the travel guru known for his popular guidebooks.

"It's amazing where we've come," says Steves of the legalization measures Washington and Colorado voters approved last month. "It's almost counterculture to oppose us."

A once-unfathomable notion, the lawful possession and private use of pot, becomes an American reality this week when this state's law goes into effect. Thursday is "Legalization Day" here, with a tote-your-own-ounce celebration scheduled beneath Seattle's Space Needle — a nod to the measure allowing adults to possess up to an ounce of pot. Colorado's law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.

How did we get here? From "say no" to "yes" votes in not one but two states?

The answer goes beyond society's evolving views, and growing acceptance, of marijuana as a drug of choice.

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