In the statewide Amendment 64 race, Pitkin County came in second only to Telluride’s San Miguel County in casting the highest percentage of votes in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
In Pitkin County, more than 75 percent, or 7,085 votes, were in favor of the measure and 24.7 percent (2,327 votes) said no. In San Miguel, 79.1 percent of voters backed legalizing marijuana.
Statewide, there were more votes cast in favor of Amendment 64 than for either President Barack Obama or GOP challenger Mitt Romney. That held true in Pitkin County, where Obama, who carried 67.8 percent of the vote here, still got 437 fewer votes than legal pot.
On Tuesday, voters in the state handily supported legalizing marijuana for all adults, regardless of whether or not they hold a doctor’s recommendation. The historic vote came down to 54.8 percent in favor and 45.1 percent against throughout the state.
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday said he would try to speak with U.S. Attorney Eric Holder as early as today about how the federal Justice Department will be handing the state’s legalization of pot.
John Walsh, U.S. Attorney in Colorado, issued a statement on Wednesday that said in part, “The Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. 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.”
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who opposed the measure, quickly cautioned that marijuana use is still illegal under federal law.
However, once Hickenlooper signs off on the state law in the next month or two, individuals who are 21 or older cannot be prosecuted by the state for possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana, and they will be allowed to grow as many as six plants in their homes.
“[Amendment 64] means that we are a year away from regulation but moments away from adults not being prosecuted,” said local attorney Lauren Maytin, who assists medical marijuana dispensaries in Aspen and Pitkin County.
Amendment 64 also allows marijuana to be sold at retail stores, and the state Legislature will have one session to craft commercial pot regulations to take effect in January 2014. After regulatory plans are passed by the Legislature, voters next November will have to approve a tax on sales of the drug. The voter-approved amendment directs state lawmakers to tax the drug up to 15 percent, with the first $40 million going to school construction.
Joe Megyesy, coordinator for the pro-64 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, acknowledged that it will be another push at the polls next year to carry the measure forward but he said he didn’t foresee it as a huge hurdle.
“It’s not going to have an impact on anyone but [marijuana users],” he said of the tax.
Local dispensary owners said on Wednesday that they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new law and are unsure how it will affect them.
John Rogan, manager of Local’s Emporium of Alternative Farms, or L.E.A.F., said he believes legislators will look at the medical marijuana industry in Colorado as a model, because of the successful regulations placed on dispensaries in the past few years.
“We don’t know what the implications are yet,” he said. “We are trying to digest it ... but we are happy.”
He praised Pitkin County for having the second highest vote in the state for the measure, and said the overwhelming support of it is “a victory” for the people of Colorado.
Rogan said based on the phone calls and messages he received on Wednesday, there is a lot of buzz around the nation on Colorado taking the first step in a nationwide push to end the prohibition of pot.
“This is a positive move forward,” he said.
Though lawmakers must still agree on a pot tax, along with extensive regulations for commercial sales, officials said those would get done.
“It’s incumbent on the Legislature to honor the will of the people on that issue,” said Democratic state Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the presumptive incoming House speaker.
Local governments could ban retail pot shops from their communities when the new law comes to fruition.
Associated Press reporters Kristen Wyatt Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.