Crowds count down to marijuana legalization in Oregon, then light up

Wed Jul 1, 2015 2:47pm EDT
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By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Crowds counted down the minutes to midnight then lit up joints as smoking marijuana became legal in Oregon on Wednesday and the legalization movement spread to a fourth U.S. state.

Hundreds gathered on the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland and smoked under the glow of a neon city sign, marking the moment that the law allowing recreational use, backed by voters in November, came into effect.

The legislation opens the way for shops to sell marijuana by next year, though a bill headed to the governor's desk would allow bans on retail sales in cities and counties where at least 55 percent of voters voted against legal weed.

Similar legalization initiatives that have ushered in retail pot shops are already in force in Washington state and Colorado, reflecting a shifting landscape for a drug that remains illegal under federal law. Alaska, which also voted to legalize marijuana, hopes for pot shops in 2016.

About half of U.S. states allow marijuana for medical use. The District of Columbia has voted to allow recreational-use marijuana but not retail shops, and a pot legalization campaign is getting underway in California, where voters in 2010 rejected legal weed. Maine lawmakers blocked pot-legalization last month.

"We are thrilled with the end of adult marijuana prohibition, but we are far from where we need to be," said Russ Belville, from the pro-marijuana group NORML.

Oregon residents aged 21 and older can now smoke privately, grow up to four plants and possess up to eight ounces (227 grams) at home and one ounce outside home, the Liquor Control Commission said.

Driving while high remains illegal and pot cannot be taken out of state, even to neighboring Washington, where retailing started last year, the commission said.   Continued...

Marijuana enthusiasts gather after midnight to celebrate the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola