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How did Denver’s 4/20 marijuana day turn violent?

Three people were injured by gunshots fired at the 4/20 marijuana celebration in Denver Saturday. While there is growing acceptance of marijuana use, the issue remains politically controversial with federal law at odds with the decriminalization trend among some jurisdictions.

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"Neither a state nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told an audience in Washington last week. “Nor should we lose sight of the fundamental fact that using marijuana has public health consequences, and the most responsible public policy is one that restricts its availability and discourages its use."

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At the same time, marijuana is becoming more acceptable in US society – particularly its use for medicinal purposes. The Pew Research Center reported earlier this month that 52 percent of Americans now say that marijuana use should be made legal. Among younger Americans, the figure is even higher.

“That finding is the result of decades of slow demographic changes and cultural evolution that now appears, much like attitudes around marriage equality, to be accelerating,” writes Huffington Post reporter Matt Sledge. “More and more people, including Pat Robertson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are rejecting the tough-on-crime rhetoric so long directed toward drug use.”

A HuffPost/YouGov poll in January found that just 19 percent of those surveyed think the “war on drugs” has been worth the cost.

Harvard economist and senior lecturer Jeffrey Miron estimates that legalizing marijuana across the country would result in $8.7 billion in financial savings from tax revenues and reduced enforcement costs.

Still, the issue remains politically controversial. While voters in Colorado and Washington approved recreational marijuana use, Oregon defeated a similar measure.

Lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have been looking for ways to resolve the apparent legal conflict between state and federal law regarding marijuana.

In Colorado last week, a bill was introduced in the state legislature. Among other things, it would regulate the types of businesses allowed to sell marijuana, the amount of the substance that can be sold in a single transaction to individuals from out-of-state (one-fourth of an ounce), and the ways in which marijuana sales are taxed.

Following Saturday’s shooting at the Denver 4/20 celebration, organizers canceled a second rally scheduled for Sunday.

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