After Tuesday’s election, marijuana is no more than 30 days from becoming legal for limited possession and recreational use by adults in Colorado — but the regulatory atmosphere is still hazy.
Amendment 64 passed with a 53 percent majority statewide — although it failed by a 3,300-vote margin in Colorado Springs, actually just 50.6 to 49.4 percent — and that sets the guidelines for people to grow a small number of plants and for residents 21 and older to use the drug recreationally. By January 2014, it should be available for sale in closely regulated retail markets.
But there are still challenges ahead, said Brian Vincente, executive director of Sensible Colorado and co-chairman of the move to legalize recreational use of the drug.
“This is a big, historic victory,” Vincente said. “But now we have to make sure that there’s a responsible implementation of the law that passed.”
While adults can grow and partake of their own marijuana plants immediately, there will be about a 14-month delay before it’s available for retail sale. That gives the Legislature and Department of Revenue time to come up with specific regulations. Lawmakers also are ordered to approve another ballot initiative that will levy up to 15 percent state tax on all marijuana sales, with the first $40 million of that money each year to be used for school construction projects.
“TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights) wouldn’t allow us to do it any other way,” Vincente said. “But we’re confident that the Legislature will follow the directive of the people. We expect that ballot issue to be voted on in 2013 — and we expect it to pass just as Amendment 64 did.”
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the new state constitutional amendment. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers released a statement that he strongly believed marijuana legalization to be “very bad public policy.” However, he said voters can expect his office to assist in implementing the amendment.
There is a caveat, Suthers said: Case law already allows the federal government to pursue criminal charges against the possession, use and distribution of marijuana in individual states.
Suthers is asking the Justice Department “to make known its intentions regarding prosecution of activities sanctioned by Amendment 64 (particularly large wholesale grow operations) as soon as possible” to help in implementing the law.
But the feds aren’t talking — at least not yet.
“The Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Colorado in a written statement. “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.”
However, Gov. John Hickenlooper, despite his opposition to the amendment, said he would sign the amendment into law. If he refused, it still would become law in 30 days.
“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “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 Goldfish too quickly.”