Today Marijuana Moves to Center Stage in Three States

Some of the more intriguing initiatives on state ballots Tuesday involve marijuana.

While 17 states and Washington, D.C., allow marijuana use for medical purposes, none have yet sanctioned use of pot for recreational use. But that could all change Tuesday, when voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will vote on measures that would allow residents to possess and use marijuana.

Could this actually happen? According to the polling numbers, the answer is, well, maybe. According to the USA Today:

Independent polls have shown proponents leading in Washington and Colorado a month or more before the election, but the outcome remains in doubt, and both sides are aware of what happened in California in 2010: The similar Proposition 19 lost 53.5% to 46.5% after an early lead in favor disappeared.

The Oregon measure, meanwhile, appears to face a harder climb.

The ramifications of a “yes” vote in any of the three states could be fascinating. For starters, federal law still bans the use of recreational marijuana.

So, theoretically, you could see federal authorities marching on Seattle, Boulder or Eugene to round up tokers while state authorities stand aside.

(An at least equally plausible scenario: the federal government right away sues to stop the initiative from taking effect — and the whole thing gets held up pending review by a federal appeals court — or possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Another imponderable: to what degree would one of these states instantly become a tourist destination for those looking to partake, without fear of legal reprisal. According to this USA Today story, not everyone thinks legalization would lead to a boom in tourist dollars.

On the one hand, writes the USA Today, tourism might pick up — at least in the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge:

In Colorado – where the ski resort of Breckenridge removed penalties for marijuana possession in 2010 and already has a reputation as the “Amsterdam of the Rockies” – Amendment 64 would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older and would let specially licensed marijuana stores sell to anyone 21 and older who presents “government-issued identification to determine the consumer’s age.”

On the other, states could experience a backlash of sorts:

“Tourism is the second largest industry in both Denver and Colorado. If Colorado receives international media attention as the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana in their constitution, Colorado’s brand will be damaged and we may attract fewer conventions and see a decline in leisure travel,” said Richard Scharf of Denver’s tourism bureau.

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