DENVER - Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 to legalize recreational marijuana use -- setting up a showdown with federal authorities.
Amendment 64 was leading 54 percent to 46 percent with 77 percent of the vote counted.
The state constitutional amendment is expected to trigger a confrontation with federal law enforcement officials. Federal law prohibits any marijuana use -- recreational or medicinal.
Amendment 64 organizers will hold a news briefing to discuss the next steps in implementing the law at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Civic Center Park, across from the Denver City-County Building.
Amendment 64 will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also would allow people to grow as many as six marijuana plants in private, secure areas.
Washington State voters also passed a marijuana legalization measure Tuesday night, but a similar proposal failed in Oregon.
Amendment 64 organizers said the new law will make marijuana legal for adults and regulate it like alcohol. It removes criminal penalties for possession and establishes a system of regulated and taxed marijuana products, and allows for the legal cultivation of industrial hemp.
"Today, the people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Brian Vicente, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation."
Vicente said the law will create new jobs, generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes.
However, Colorado's governor warned that passage of the state amendment doesn't trump federal law.
"The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," Gov. John Hickenlooper said. "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 or gold fish too quickly," Hickenlooper said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Colorado issued a statement reminding the public of the federal ban on marijuana.
"The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," the statement said. "In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time."
Vicente issued his own warning to authorities opposed to legalized pot.
"It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end," Vicente said.
Amendment 64 backers celebrated their triumph to Bob Marley music at Casselman's Bar in Denver.
"I'm feeling amazing," said pro-pot voter Eli Gilliand. "This is the best day I've seen in my life...Just the freedom that we have, I can't believe it."
"This is a long time coming," said Mason Tvert, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign. He's been pushing for legalization of pot since 2005, when he led a successful -- but largely symbolic -- Denver ballot measure allowing adults to privately possess less than an ounce of marijuana in the city.
"Millions of Coloradoans can't be wrong and it's time for a new approach to marijuana, and that's what we're going to have," Tvert said.
Yet, he added, "This is the starting point. We still have to work with the federal and state government to make this a sensible regulation."