DENVER - Colorado on Tuesday become the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use, in defiance of federal law. A similar measure in Washington state also appeared headed for voter approval.
Supporters of a Colorado constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana declared victory and opponents conceded defeat after returns showed the measure garnering nearly 53 per cent of the vote vs. 47 per cent against.
In Washington, cannabis legalization measure was leading by a handy margin, according to state returns, and local media, including the Seattle Times, called the race in favour of approval.
Polls before the election showed support for legalizing recreational pot trailing in a third state, Oregon, where significantly less money and campaign organisation has been devoted to the cause.
Separately, medical marijuana measures were on the ballot in three other states, including Massachusetts, where CNN reported that voters approved an initiative to allow cannabis for medicinal reasons.
Supporters there issued a statement declaring victory for what they described as "the safest medical marijuana law in the country.
Seventeen other states, plus the District of Columbia, already have medical marijuana laws on their books.
Under the measures in Colorado and Washington, personal possession of up to an ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana would be legal for anyone at least 21 years of age. Oregon's initiative would legalize possession of unlimited amounts of pot for recreational use.
All three proposals would also permit cannabis to be legally sold, and taxed, at state-licensed stores in a system modeled after the regime many states have in place for alcohol sales.
The Colorado measure would also allow personal cultivation of up to six marijuana plants, and the Oregon initiative would allow individuals to grow unlimited amounts for themselves; grow-your-own pot would be banned in Washington state.
But legalization puts the states in conflict with the federal government, which classifies cannabis as an illegal narcotic.
The US Department of Justice issued a statement reacting to passage in Colorado, saying that its enforcement policies remain unchanged, adding: "We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time."