Colorado lawmakers hash out the details of marijuana reform

In November 2012, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana possession for adults in Colorado. However, the constitutional amendment does not spell out how new laws will be implemented or enforced. As a result, state officials must now work quickly to flesh out the details of what marijuana legalization really means for Colorado.

The election results were certified on December 6, paving the way for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign the amendment into law by early January. Although Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64, he recently signed an Executive Order, which "formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older," according to a Governor's office press release.

Taxes and regulations

In many regards, Amendment 64 can be seen as ushering in a new era of permissiveness in Colorado's marijuana policy. However, the reforms also pave the way for new regulation and oversight in what was once an underground industry. Along with legalizing recreational marijuana, Amendment 64 allows taxes and regulations on the sale of marijuana, and establishes DUI offenses for people convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana in Colorado.

Although Colorado adults will soon be permitted to use marijuana in private for recreational purposes, public use of marijuana will remain prohibited under the new law. Also, while Amendment 64 authorizes the purchase of marijuana for recreational use, the legal sale and distribution of the drug in Colorado will require a legal framework that has not yet been developed. Thus, even after marijuana possession becomes legal, marijuana distribution will remain illegal in Colorado until the new regulatory structure is established to oversee the sale of the drug.

Conflict with federal law

Another legal obstacle presented by Amendment 64 is that while Colorado and a number of other states are relaxing their marijuana policies, the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance. Thus, under federal law, possession or distribution of marijuana in any amount remains a serious crime. Exactly how Colorado lawmakers will approach this conflict remains to be seen.

For guidance, Colorado lawmakers may look to Washington State, where voters approved a similar measure on the November 2012 ballot. The two states are the first in the U.S. to authorize the legalization of marijuana. Washington's new law went into effect on December 6. Colorado officials are likely to keep a close eye on the federal government's response in Washington State during the coming months.

Many marijuana offenses remain

The passage of Amendment 64 means big changes are in store for Colorado's marijuana policy, but it is hardly carte blanche for marijuana use in the state. For instance, people under the age of 21 and those found in possession of more than one ounce of marijuana may still face serious criminal charges in Colorado and should seek help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer if charged.

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