By Ed Lavandera
Denver, CO (CNN) - Voters in Colorado and Washington have spoken, legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
It's the kind of story that makes headline writers salivate.
"I can only imagine what Jay Leno and company are going to be saying over the next week or two, lots of jokes. I'm sure there will be plenty of snack foods discussed," said Gov. John Hickenlooper.
After Colorado voters approved legalizing marijuana, the state's governor, John Hickenlooper, could only warn everyone not to "break out the Cheetos and Goldfish" just yet. The fact is, no one knows what will happen next.
"It's hard to imagine the chaos that would result if state by state you had one state legalizing it and one state not legalizing it," said Hickenlooper.
But that's exactly what's happening. Seventeen states have already legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and Colorado and Washington state are the first to approve selling the drug like alcohol. The vote has put these states on a collision course with the federal government, which still says possessing marijuana is a crime.
"It simply can't go on the way it is, it can't be a big industry and a federal crime at the same time," said Sam Kamin.
Kamin is a University of Denver Law professor. He says as more and more states legalized marijuana for medical purposes, the federal government looked the other way.
"Every store that sells marijuana here is violated federal law. Federal government could come in and seize assets, they could charge people criminally, they could send people to jail for scores of years. They have chosen so far not to do that," said Kamin.
Colorado already has a lot of experience regulating marijuana. There are more than 500 licensed medicinal marijuana clinics across the state. And then there are the cultivation rooms, where all of the marijuana is grown. Hundreds of different strains and flavors. All of this happening right in the heart of the city of Denver.
The Colorado amendment would allow anyone over 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot. It would allow licensed production, and weed sales would be taxed up to 15 percent. The profits then slated to help pay for the construction of public schools.
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement aren't saying much, only that they're reviewing the ballot initiatives.
"I think Colorado voters are clearly fed up with marijuana prohibition," said Kamin.
Mason Tvert was part of the group that pushed to legalized pot in Colorado. He says it could generate nearly $50 million a year for the state.
[Reporter]: "This law is just going to cause chaos, what do you say to that?"
[Tvert]: "I think that's just absurd. Let's take marijuana out of the underground market, and let's stop giving all the profits to cartels and gangs and start putting those profits toward Colorado businesses, and let's start generating tens of millions of dollars tax revenue that could be benefitting our state as opposed to going overseas or going to criminal activity."
It's an awkward time. Voters have essentially passed a smoky bong to the federal government, and it needs to figure out what to do with it next.