Last week, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use -- a landmark vote that is without historical precedent and one that dealt a huge blow to a decades-long drug war in the United States.
So, how did it happen? Well, it's certainly due to changing popular attitudes about the drug as well as the hard work of many people at multiple marijuana reform groups across the nation -- including one person in particular who was at the forefront of Colorado's marijuana legalization effort for years: Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group behind Colorado's marijuana legalizing Amendment 64.
On Friday, Tvert dropped by "Real Time with Bill Maher" to discuss the big victory for marijuana.
"You had a big victory, how do you feel, did you get high?" Vocal marijuana reform supporter Bill Maher said to Tvert who responded with, "No, it feels good to know that 10,000 people in Colorado are not going to be arrested and made criminals next year just for using marijuana."
Maher, who shoots his show in Los Angeles, California -- a state which has legal marijuana for medical use -- asked Tvert how he got Amendment 64 to work in Colorado and how California can get something similar on the ballot.
"What we really did is we inspired a long discussion in Colorado over the last eight years about marijuana -- and about the fact that it is safer than alcohol which is really an important point that a lot of Americans still don't understand yet," Tvert said. "We looked at survey data, we see that almost a third of Americans think marijuana is more harmful than alcohol which is insane, obviously."
Tvert and Maher also spoke about the likelihood of California legalizing marijuana in the near future. "California, I think you guys are poised to do it," Tvert said to Maher. "I know you made a very generous contribution to Barack Obama and I think if you and twenty of your friends want to get together and make a similar contribution -- we'll have this done in a year or two."
"Will you move here and do it for us?" Maher responded. "I will do it just for you," said Tvert.
Later in the interview Maher invented a new definition for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's last name: "I think the word 'Hickenlooper' should become a word we use when you take too big of a bong hit."
Maher also brought up the governor's vocal opposition to Amendment 64 prior to the election and then his "don't break out the Cheetos and Goldfish" follow up response to A64's passage. Hickenlooper has said that he will respect the voters' will and did have a phone call with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday to discuss Colorado's legalizing of marijuana and how the feds might respond, but the results of that call gave no clue as to whether or not the Department of Justice will sue to block the marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington, according to The Associated Press.
But Hickenlooper's opposition to the measure and only half-serious reaction to its passage has provoked some push back against one of the "most popular governors in the country." Hickenlooper's "Cheetos and Goldfish" statement elicited a strong reaction from Tom Angell, spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who said to The Huffington Post's Matt Sledge:
"What an insult to the majority of voters who did not follow your recommendation, governor. I wouldn't be surprised to see that comment bite him in the ass."
ColoradoPols were also critical of Hickenlooper's reaction:
There is a sense that Hickenlooper is almost hoping the feds will put the kibosh on Amendment 64, and is purposefully not doing enough to support the will of the voters here.
But for Gov. Hickenlooper to more or less insult an electoral majority, while meekly awaiting the edict of federal law enforcement on Amendment 64, makes him appear feckless and contemptuous of the same Colorado voters who elected him--even more of whom, we are obliged to point out, voted to legalize marijuana than voted for John Hickenlooper in 2010.
Amendment 64 made news for also pulling in more votes than President Barack Obama did in Colorado.
So while Hickenlooper practices his stand-up comedy career wisecracking about the majority of Colorado voters who want marijuana legalized and expect their elected officials to respect their wishes, the state's three Democratic U.S. House members are actually doing something to achieve that end by drafting legislation aimed at easing tension between the new state law and the federal prohibition of marijuana.
The Colorado Independent reported over the weekend that Colorado Reps Diana DeGette (CD1), Ed Perlmutter (CD7) and Jared Polis (CD2) are working independently and together on bills that would exempt states that pass marijuana legalization legislation from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
More from Tvert on "Real Time" during the "Overtime" segment below the slideshow, Tvert speaks around 9:15 into the clip:
$13.7 Billion Saved On Prohibition Enforcement Costs
The government would save an estimated $13.7 billion on prohibition enforcement costs and tax revenue by legalizing marijuana, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/economists-marijuana-legalization_n_1431840.html" target="_hplink">according to a paper endorsed by 300 economists</a>.
Marijuana Inmates Cost Prisons $1 Billion A Year
Inmates incarcerated on marijuana-related charges cost U.S. prisons $1 billion annually, according to a 2007 study, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/rights/47815/" target="_hplink">AlterNet reports</a>.
Marijuana Prohibition Costs Taxpayers $41.8 Billion A Year
Including lost tax revenues, a 2007 study found that enforcing the marijuana prohibition costs tax payers $41.8 billion annually, <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2007/09/29/marijuana-laws-work-biz-cx_qh_1001pot.html" target="_hplink">Forbes</a> reports.
California Marijuana Crop Worth $14 Billion A Year
Marijuana growers account for <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1884956,00.html" target="_hplink">$14 billion a year in sales in California</a>, making it the state's most valuable cash crop, TIME reports.
Illegal Marijuana A $36 Billion A Year Industry
It's estimated that <a href="http://madamenoire.com/106691/capitalizing-on-the-billion-dollar-marijuana-industry/" target="_hplink">illegal marijuana is a $36 billion industry</a> in the U.S., MadameNoire reports.
One-Third Of Americans Think Legalization Would Boost The Economy
About one-third of Americans say they think <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/legalizing-pot-will-not-b_n_544526.html?" target="_hplink">legalizing marijuana would boost the economy</a>, according to a 2010 poll by Associated Press-CNBC.
Dispensary Ads Boost Newspapers' Revenue
The <em>Sacramento News and Review</em> saw a big boost in ad revenue when it offered advertising space for more than 60 medical marijuana dispensaries, enabling the publication to hire three additional employees, <a href="http://www.news10.net/news/local/article/144285/2/Marijuana-ads-mean-big-money-for-weekly-newspaper" target="_hplink">according to News 10</a>.
Mendocino Zip Tie Program Raised $600,000
Mendocino County, California's zip tie program aimed at regulating medical marijuana growing by charging permits for each plant raised <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/medical-marijuana-license-mendocino_n_1193198.html" target="_hplink">$600,000 in revenue in for the Sheriff's department</a> in 2011.
Oakland Raised More Than $1 Million In Marijuana Tax Revenue
The city of Oakland, California raised $1.3 million in tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011, 3 percent of the city's total business tax revenue, according to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/cities-turn-to-a-crop-for-cash-medical-marijuana.html?_r=1" target="_hplink"><em>The New York Times</em></a>.
Colorado Pulls In $5 Million From Pot Sales Tax
In 2011, Colorado pulled in $5 milllion in sales taxes from medical marijuana businesses, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/cities-turn-to-a-crop-for-cash-medical-marijuana.html?_r=1" target="_hplink"><em>The New York Times</em></a> reports.
Legal Marijuana Could Be $100 Billion Industry
Economist Stephen Easton estimated in 2010 that <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2010/03/legalize_mariju.html" target="_hplink">legal marijuana could be a $45 to $100 billion industry</a>, <em>Bloomberg Businessweek</em> reports.
Each weGrow Center Creates 75 Jobs
When hydroponic marijuana growing supply chain weGrow opens a new store it <a href="http://aznow.biz/small-biz/wegrow-phoenix-opens-cultivates-opportunities-arizona)" target="_hplink">creates an estimated 75 jobs</a> indirectly, according to AZBusiness Magazine.
Majority Of States Support Taxing Marijuana
More than <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/legalizing-pot-will-not-b_n_544526.html?" target="_hplink">60 percent of states agree with taxing marijuana</a>, according to a poll by Associated Press-CNBC.
Marijuana Affects Workplace Motivation
A Norwegian study 25 years in the making came to the shocking conclusion that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/marijuana-use-has-adverse-affect-workplace-motivation_n_1300278.html?" target="_hplink">frequent marijuana use lowers employees' motivation at work</a>.
More Than 1,000 Dispensaries In California
There could be more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in California, <a href="http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/how_does_your_pot_grow/8070/" target="_hplink"><em>Pasadena Weekly</em></a> reported in 2009.
Denver Counts More Dispensaries Than Starbucks
As of July 2011, the city of Denver <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/medical-marijuana-denver-starbucks_n_891796.html" target="_hplink">counted more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks franchises</a>.