November 5, 2014 / 11:04 PM / 3 years ago

Legal toking still months away despite pot votes in Alaska, Oregon

Pedestrians pass by a DC Cannabis Campaign sign in Washington November 4, 2014.Gary Cameron

PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Voters in the blue state of Oregon and red state of Alaska have joined the fledgling green column of the U.S. political map by choosing to legalize recreational marijuana, but supporters are not at liberty to light up or buy their cannabis just yet.

Ballot measures approved in both states on Tuesday will take months to go into effect, with pot enthusiasts in Oregon having to wait until next summer to legally indulge and neither state likely to make marijuana available for commercial sales before 2016.

"Anyone who is driving down the freeway and lights up a doobie and waives at an officer is going to get a ticket," Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, spokesman for the defeated "vote no" campaign in Oregon, told Reuters.

The Oregon and Alaska measures will legalize recreational marijuana possession and usher in state-licensed retail pot shops similar to those that opened this year in Washington state and Colorado, which became the first to allow cannabis use for pleasure under 2012 voter initiatives.

District of Columbia voters on Tuesday approved legalization of marijuana possession but not its sale.

Supporters pointed to the outcome as a sign of growing acceptance of marijuana consumption as part of the American mainstream, with advocates of liberalized pot laws looking to California as their next battleground in 2016.

"In 2016 we're going to push the ball forward in several states until we end prohibition," said Leland Berger, a Portland attorney who helped write the new Oregon law.

But nothing changes immediately on the ground in Oregon or Alaska. The newly passed Alaska law is expected to go into effect next February, while Oregon pot smokers will have to wait until July 2015. Retail outlets are not expected to open in either state until the following year.

"Nothing will change for us in the interim, as marijuana possession has been a very low law enforcement priority for a long time," Portland police spokesman Peter Simpson said.

Legalization opponents in both states said they would push state legislators for tighter rules, including measures aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and to bar advertising that would appeal to youngsters.

Marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law, though the Obama administration has said it was giving individual states leeway to carry out their own recreational-use statutes.

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his group would redouble efforts to build a broader coalition to beat back better-funded pro-cannabis groups ahead of 2016.

Meanwhile, a proposed state constitutional amendment to make Florida the 24th state and the first in the South to allow medical marijuana fell short of the 60 percent support needed to pass.

Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Additional reporting by Steve Quinn in Juneau and Eric Johnson in Seattle; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Beech

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