NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) - Colorado and Washington State residents voted to legalize the use of marijuana last month. And experts say the landmark vote will create a ripple effect.
"I think it's a normal progression because the amount of people using it is so high, and I can't see a society making everyone in it criminals," said Northampton resident Brandt Passalacqua of the Washington State marijuana laws that went into effect Thursday.
Sharon Mixon of Sunderland also supports the idea. "I think sometimes if you take the taboo out of something, you might actually also decrease some of the use," said Mixon in Hadley on Thursday.
As of 12:01AM Thursday, Washington State residents would be allowed to own up to ounce of marijuana for recreational private use. Public smoking won't be allowed and will result in fines. The measure went into effect two months after voters approved the referendum.
Colorado also repealed the crime and in January it will be legal for adults to privately own up to one ounce and grow up to six plants in their home.
"Back when I grew up we didn't know much about marijuana, nobody really smoked. But now, hey, I even try it every now and then," said Ethel Clemons of Amherst.
Cannabis has been grown in America since colonial times. Federal authorities didn't crack down on the drug until after the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Northampton lawyer Dick Evans advocates for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, (NORML). Evans told 22News the landmark vote exposes a future conflict between state and federal marijuana law. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) , marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance and has a propensity for dependence and addiction.
"The election results in Colorado and Washington State and especially all the buzz that surrounds it, clearly signifies that people are ready for a debate. The debate ought to be occurring in Congress as to what to do about marijuana, but we don't expect Congress to do anything," said Evans who's been advocating for 40 years.
Evans says not legalizing the widely use drug will continue to strain the justice system. According to NORML, more than 20 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses since 1965.
Massachusetts also eased medical marijuana laws this past November. Starting in January, the laws will protect patients and doctors from criminal and civil penalties.