Voters in Colorado and Washington approved the first statewide initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana as Maine, Washington and Maryland became the first states to approve gay marriage by popular vote.
"The voters have spoken, and we have to respect their will," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said after Tuesday's voting. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos too quickly."
Amendment 64 legalized marijuana for anyone over 21. It is to be sold at state-licensed stores that would pay taxes that were expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the state government.
A similar measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana failed to pass in neighbouring Oregon.
Those results were among the most closely watched initiatives on the ballot while in another major issue, voters in Florida rejected a measure that would have severely limited the reach of President Barack Obama's health care reforms.
In California voters rejected an initiative that would have banned the death penalty. But in a major boost to Governor Jerry Brown they approved a proposal to raise 6 billion dollars yearly in new taxes to solve the state's chronic budget problems.
Voters in America's most populous state also passed a proposal amending the state's infamous three strikes law which had imposed a mandatory life sentence on criminals convicted of a third felony. Under the new measure offenders whose third strikes were minor, nonviolent crimes could no longer be given 25 years to life in prison. =
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