State pot experiment 
being closely observed

The canvass of the Nov. 6 election in Colorado is to be officially completed today, showing that voters did pass Amendment 64 to make possession of small amounts of marijuana legal under state law. The governor has until Jan. 6 to issue an official proclamation certifying the vote. So a month from today, at the latest, recreational use of pot will be legal.

Along with Washington state, whose voters adopted a similar ballot measure last month, Colorado is beginning a major experiment in ending the prohibition of marijuana.

And that process is being closely watched across the country and even outside U.S. borders.

Perhaps the first important question to be addressed is this: What will the federal governmnet do?

Because marijuana remains a federally controlled substance, possession and sale of pot are still illegal at the federal level.

It seems unlikely that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will sudddenly start cracking down on people possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, since the agency hasn’t historically done so.

But a group of business organizations in the state — including Club 20 and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce — have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to do just that to provide clarity to employers in Colorado about the conflict between federal and state law.

Even if the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t pursue people for possession of minor amounts of marijuana, the question remains about how it will react to marijuana retail outlets, which are authorized under Amendment 64.

Also, how many communities in the state will vote to prohibit retail pot outlets? Will pot stores be rare or ubiquitous?

The business groups also have a legitimate concern. Employer rights and responsibilities remain a substantial area of uncertainty under Amendment 64.

Can employers fire someone who tests positive for marijuana, even if the person proves he or she only imbibed while not at work? What about liability issues if a business allows a pot user to, say, operate heavy machinery? What if there is an accident or injury?

Then there are the law enforcement questions: Will Amendment 64 have any impact, good or bad, on black-market pot sales? On teens using marijuana? On drug-related crime or the number of people doing prison time for drugs?

Additionally, what will Colorado’s image become to the rest of the country and the world? One marijuana advocate recently speculated there would be marijuana cafes here, much like there are in Amsterdam. However, as The Denver Post noted, nothing in Amendment 64 authorizes those sorts of businesses. In fact, the language of the measure expressly prohibits the consumption of pot in public places.

The answer to these many questions won’t be known immediately. But beginning soon, the great Colorado marijuana experiment will be under way.


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