BOULDER, Colo.—Last November, 55 percent of voting Colorado citizens said yes to Amendment 64, decriminalizing the use and limited possession of marijuana for adults over 21. So far this unprecedented vote has produced more high-tension governmental committee meetings than high pot-smokers on the streets of Colorado cities.
The 12-page amendment provided clear answers to the “what” and “when” questions of legalization—what substances are legal and when the laws would go into effect. But answers to the “how” questions—how to tax marijuana, how to license marijuana businesses, and how to regulate the sales of marijuana—are up to local governments, the state government, and various state departments to decide.
As soon as Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the amendment into the state constitution in December, he appointed a 24-member task force to make recommendations on how to implement Amendment 64. The task force included Coloradans from every side of the issue—current medical marijuana consumers to law enforcement representatives. Its 166-page report, released on March 13, recommended a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales; a “vertical integration” retail model, where one manufacturer handles the product from “seed to sale”; and the creation of a new Marijuana Enforcement Division in the Colorado Department of Revenue, among many other things.
Now, a legislative committee is trying to turn those recommendations into a bill that the Democrat-controlled state House and Senate will pass before the legislative session ends on May 8. Gritty details include the permissible marijuana content in retail food products, such as brownies, and where recreational pot stores can advertise.
Sprinkling every debate, including one about internet sales, is the overarching issue of impending federal government intervention. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana is a Schedule I Controlled Substance—and that puts the legality of Amendment 64 in question. The Obama administration has not said how it will respond to Colorado’s challenge to the Controlled Substances Act.