The federal government has yet to rule on how it will handle the new laws in Washington and Colorado. Growing, possessing, and buying marijuana is still against federal law, though experts doubt that the federal government has the capacity to enforce the laws in those states.
"The feds undoubtedly have the authority to shut down any institution or selling shop," explained Richard Collins, law professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "(But) that would leave in place the right to possess an ounce and the right to grow six plants, which I doubt the U.S. attorney has the capacity to deal with."
"They don't have the manpower to do so, the resources to do so, and the public clearly would not be supportive of them doing so," Armentano said. "It think because these votes passed with such a solid majority, I don't think the political will in D.C. permits the federal government to do so. With that said, the federal government doesn't have a whole lot of options."
Collins points out that many voters in Colorado voted to approve the legalization of marijuana because it would provide an extra revenue source for the state in the form of new tax dollars. That argument is a central point of lobbyists' pitch to convince lawmakers that the regulation of the marijuana industry would be beneficial to states.
"If they do (outlaw selling shops), the existing black market would continue and the state won't get tax money, and if you ask voters why they voted for this, they say 'because it should be taxed like booze.' So if the U.S. attorney does this he'll be a really unpopular guy," Collins said.
Now, experts agree, all eyes are on the Department of Justice as it decides how to handle Washington and Colorado, and whether those states will pave the way for legal pot around the country.
"The significance is that (the votes in Washington and Colorado) are going to push up the timeline for the states and the federal government to resolve their differences," Meisel said. "I think many other states are going to be looking anxiously at this in terms of how it is resolved."