WASHINGTON - In a country known for its drug war and where Bill Clinton once caught hell for admitting to smoking pot, new ground is being broken: legal marijuana markets in two states.
The pioneers of this sea change are out west, in Colorado and Washington, and grassroots support for their experiment is strong.
Marijuana consumption is legal and regulated for medical purposes in 19 US states, in some cases for the past 20 years. And in most of them, private consumption of pot is not classified as a crime.
But Colorado and Washington are taking a big jump forward. They are creating a pot market in which local authorities will oversee growing, distribution and marketing - all of it legal - for people to get high just for the fun of it.
Alcohol-style rules to be used
In Colorado, famous for its Rocky Mountain ski resorts, at least 130 licenses have been issued for small shops which, starting January 1, will be able to sell up to 28 grams of marijuana to people aged 21 or older.
Another 300 applications for licenses are pending. The pot sold in shops will come from private, licensed growers.
In Colorado, consumption, possession and domestic growing of pot in small amounts were already allowed. But sales of it were not. This left the door open for drug dealers to operate.
In legal terms, smoking pot will be subject to the same rules and obligations as those governing alcohol. People will not be able to smoke it in public or grow it on public land.
In Washington, the framework for the new system is laid out, although the first licenses for legal sales of marijuana are not expected to be issued until mid-2014.
A closely watched experiment
Other states are watching these experiments closely and pondering similar legislation.
"Two states down, 48 to go," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.