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Little fanfare for marijuana legalization in Colorado; were we doing it wrong?

David DesRoaches, left, and Michael Hodges, right, pose for a friend's photo as they smoke marijuana, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, just after midnight at the Space Needle in Seattle. Possession of marijuana became legal in Washington state at midnight, and several hundred people gathered at the Space Needle to smoke and celebrate the occasion, even though the new law does prohibit public use of marijuana. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Colorado gave a lonely reception to marijuana when it became the second state to legalize the drug — which was just what state leaders planned. In Washington it seemed to be a much bigger deal. Meanwhile, use of still-illegal-to-obtain-marijuana appears to be on the rise in the Evergreen State.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday quietly removed the final barrier to legalization by declaring that an amendment passed by voters in November was officially part of the state constitution. He announced the move on Twitter and email after the fact. In response, a handful of marijuana activists celebrated by toking up on the Capitol steps, but there were no crowds and little fanfare.

It was a different scene in Washington state, which last week became the first state to legalize marijuana. There, activists counted down to legalization outside Seattle landmarks such as the Space Needle. Colorado officials wanted no such revelry.

In light of such little celebration in Colorado, should Washingtonians be asking if we did it wrong?

The approval of I-502 was to regulate the use of marijuana, while some of what that means is still in question, laws regarding marijuana are very clear.

Like the law against having an open container of alcohol in a public environment, using marijuana is also not supposed to happen in public.

Instead, Seattle Police have been instructed to not issue tickets for public pot use, only give the law-breaker a verbal warning. In an email to officers from the department they were told to maintain this practice “until further notice.”

The behavior of those smoking publicly celebrating loudly has even had some who voted yes on I-502 regretting their decision.

After seeing the images, KIRO Radio host Terry Jaymes said he regrets his vote.

“For people who are supposed to be all mellow and high, [they] sure have an attitude,” Jaymes said. “Lighten up people.”

But with even medical marijuana an embattled issue in Washington, maybe there is another reason marijuana legalization in Colorado was just not a big deal.

In 2010, the Denver Post reported the city was host to more marijuana dispensaries than liquor stores, Starbucks coffee shops or public schools, according to city and corporate records.

In Kent, medical marijuana businesses were banned. In Everett, moratoriums were placed on medical marijuana dispensaries as the city would debate the issue time and again. And in Seattle, home of Hempfest, the practices of physicians prescribing marijuana was brought into question.

Gov. Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed the marijuana measure, said he purposely sought a low-key enactment in Colorado.

Colorado law gave him until Jan. 5 to declare marijuana legal. He told reporters he saw no reason to wait and didn’t see any point in letting marijuana become legal without his proclamation.

“I could have made a bigger deal out of it, you know, tried to make a hoopla out of it,” Hickenlooper told reporters after the marijuana declaration.

“But if we are concerned about young people thinking that this … is really in some way a tacit endorsement, that’s it’s OK to smoke pot — we’re trying to mitigate that as much as possible,” he said.

But was Washington concerned about the kids?

In a news release Tuesday, Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn said that among young people, marijuana use was seemingly going up.

Recent anecdotal reports from school districts to the state superintendent’s office suggested an increase in marijuana possession and consumption among young people, especially after the passage of Initiative 502.

“Any student caught will be disciplined according to local district policy and local law enforcement as required. Fines can also be doubled if the arrest occurs within 1,000 feet of a school facility,” Dorn said in the release.

About two dozen marijuana activists gathered outside Hickenlooper’s office on the Capitol steps to pass around joints and bongs after the announcement. Public consumption in both states remains illegal, but no police officers were in sight of the small celebration in Denver.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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