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Colorado set to enact broad set of recreational marijuana laws

Published time: May 29, 2013 01:04
Reuters / Anthony Bolante

Reuters / Anthony Bolante

Colorado has just signed into law sweeping legislation aimed at the legal, recreational use of marijuana, with regulations as to how the drug should be grown and sold in addition to the existing allowance to possess up to an ounce by adults over 21.

State voters approved a constitutional amendment on recreational marijuana in 2012. That means that, in addition to the one ounce limit, residents of Colorado can also grow up to six plants, or buy the drug at retail stores which could open as soon as January.

The new legislation seeks to normalize both the sale and consumption of marijuana, with rules on purchasing limits for out-of-state visitors, a driving limit scaled similarly to blood alcohol level laws, as well as carry-out requirements geared to prevent the growth of Amsterdam-style pot cafes.

Under Colorado’s new law drivers will be considered “too stoned to drive” if their blood stream contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient. That is the same limit imposed by Washington state, which enacted a series of laws similar to Colorado last year, though also imposing a ban on the sale of “concentrated marijuana,” or hashish.

"Recreational marijuana is really a completely new entity," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said, calling the new pot rules "commonsense" oversight.

Though Hickenlooper did not support last year’s legalization of marijuana, the governor signed the new legislation into law on Tuesday.

Still pending are a series of new taxes that could be enacted on the sale of the drug, including a 15 per cent tax with proceeds earmarked for school construction.

According to the Associated Press, there may also be a new recreational pot sales tax of 10 per cent, in addition to local and statewide sales tax.

The rollout of recreational marijuana sale is also coupled with product labeling guidelines, including child-proof, opaque packaging and consumer warning labels including potency.

Reuters / Amir Cohen

Among Colorado’s new laws, a new requirement that marijuana magazines be kept behind counters in stores allowing people under 21 will likely be challenged in court. Publications such as High Times would be subject to essentially the same treatment as pornography, and according to the AP attorneys for two such publications have already promised to challenge the new provision.

As the new laws are phased into effect, initially only stores already dealing with medical marijuana will be allowed to sell for recreational purposes. Furthermore, Colorado will grant local and county governments broad oversight over retail marijuana sales, including enacting bans, though growing the plants at home will be permitted statewide.

Another key provision to the state’s new pot laws will be requirements over stores to operate 24-hour video surveillance and become part of a “seed-to-sale tracking system.” At the same time, retail stores will have the opportunity to claim tax deductions in an apparent attempt to further bolster the surveillance requirements.

Colorado’s governor believes that the federal government will inevitably respond to both his state’s and Washington’s new marijuana laws, as they are in violation of federal drug law which does not currently allow for recreational sale.

According to the Office of National Drug Policy, which outlines federal guidelines on marijuana, it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance with “high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use” and “a lack of accepted safety” even under medical supervision; marijuana is among drugs like heroin and mescaline on the list.

Current Department of Justice guidelines explicitly make marijuana illegal under nationwide law, though the prosecution of medical use is not considered “an efficient use of federal resources” within states that currently allow that exception.

Asked whether Colorado’s new marijuana laws may also go unchallenged by the Department of Justice, Governor Hickenlooper thought it would be addressed quickly, though he would not speculate on any outcome.

"We think that it will be relatively soon. We are optimistic that they are going to be a little more specific in their approach on this issue," Hickenlooper said.

"They've been kind of busy," he added, in an apparent reference to the various scandals the DOJ is currently dealing with, including requests to secretly obtain communications from the Associated Press and a Fox News journalist.