Weed Wars: The Fight To Get High Heats Up in Three States

Colorado, Oregon and Washington on the forefront of pot legalization, despite federal ban

Medical marijuana caregiver Bret Kantola examines the bud on a new strain of medical marijuana that he is growing in his grow facility in Denver on June 23, 2011.
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"People are openly advertising and it is not secret they sell marijuana. The feds know where it is and they are not prosecuting it."

[RELATED: Colo. Pot Vote Could Affect Presidential Election]

Most of the dispensaries the federal government have shut down have been asked to move because they are too close to a school zone. But, Kamin admits recreational use is uncharted territory,

"It is always a possibility that this whole thing could come crashing down," Kamin says. "Every transaction in every one of these stores is a violation of the control substances act, and we really don't know what we would get with a Romney administration."

The Obama administration has been vocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use. In 2010, when California tried to pass its own legalization effort, Attorney General Eric Holder publicly said he'd "vigorously enforce" the law, which prohibits the growth, distribution and use of marijuana.

But Holder has yet to speak out on the current marijuana legalization efforts, and Kamin says Obama's administration is likely to stay quiet until after the election.

[REPORT: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Not Linked to Neighborhood Crime]

"In a state like Colorado where Obama really needs the youth vote, cracking down on marijuana legalization doesn't seem to be in his political best interest," Kamin says.

Opponents to amendment 64 also argue that marijuana is bad for business.

"Every time there is a bust, a raid, every time the DOJ issues an opinion, the headline is Colorado," Sherman says. "It is like a bad rash that will never go away. We spent a lot of money trying to attract new business to the state, and this is not a selling point we can market," Sherman says.

But convincing constituents legalization is a bad idea in Colorado isn't cheap.

Colorado is a swing state and the cost of running a campaign here has skyrocketed. The anti-64 groups have raised $355,000 compared to the yes folks who have raised $1.8 million.

"The base of our campaign has been really grassroots, and we have been outspent 4-to-1," Sherman says. "This is not something that Coloradans have put on the ballot; this is something national groups have lobbied for."

[RELATED: Easing of Pot Laws Poses Challenge for Parents]

Betty Aldworth, who leads the "yes on 64" campaign says that the campaign's raised money from both local and national fundraisers.

"We estimate that half a million Coloradans use every year, and we don't think those people should become criminals simply for choosing to use," Aldworth argues. "Coloradans have supported making marijuana legal for adults for years."

She notes making marijuana safe and legal could open up new revenue streams for the state.

"Colorado tourism continues to increase, and this might even draw more visitors here," Aldworth says.

The measure is leading with 51 percent of Coloradans supporting it, according to a recent Denver Post poll.

Oregon is the third state to push for legalization this election cycle, but efforts there do not look as promising.

[RELATED: Gary Johnson: Obama, Romney are 'Tweedledum' and 'Tweedledee']

Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, says it is the least likely to pass because it is very broad, idealistic and just a bit too "pro pot."

The Oregon law doesn't designate how much an individual can possess or grow, and polling shows Oregonians will likely say no to measure 80.

A Survey USA polls out last week found 36 percent were behind legalizing marijuana, while 43 percent were against it.

And the Oregon law has not attracted the funding the other two initiatives have.

"They jumped in to the game a little late," St. Pierre explains.

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  • Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. She can be reached at lfox@usnews.com or you can follow her on Twitter @foxreports.