Taking needed steps for retail marijuana

It’s legal to possess small amounts of marijuana in Colorado these days. But, with exception of medical marijuana, it’s nearly impossible to legally purchase pot.

That will change in January, when retail outlets for recreational marijuana will open.

Based on the actions of local governments so far, it appears there won’t be any retail stores in Mesa County or its immediate neighbors initially. But there will be retail outlets on the Front Range, and there almost certainly will be in a few communities on the Western Slope.

All this makes the rule-making hearings that have been held in Denver this week of more than passing concern.

Two items, in particular, have garnered a great deal of interest by those who want to participate in legally selling marijuana and those who are tasked with regulating it and preventing illegal sales.

The first measure is a marijuana tracking system — a means of following marijuana plants through special radio-frequency tags. The Department of Revenue said this week the system would be ready to implement in October with existing medical marijuana dispensaries. It should be fully operational when the recreational marijuana shops begin to open in January.

This is important for several reasons. First, law enforcement officials have complained that pot sold legally at medical marijuana shops has ended up on the black market, sold illegally. Being able to trace black-market pot back to its source would be a big incentive for legal growers and retailers to work to ensure their merchandise does not become part of the illegal market.

The Revenue Department was supposed to implement such a tracking system for medical marijuana several years ago, but was never able to do so, blaming lack of funds. It is more important than ever to get such a system up and running now that retail marijuana sales are on the not-too-distant horizon.

Second, the department has proposed rules that would require would-be marijuana sellers to pay fees that could easily top $10,000 to apply for and obtain operational licenses. Those are steep costs, and pot retailers will pay even more in sales taxes if Colorado voters approve a ballot measure this November.

However, the expenses for overseeing the marijuana industry will also be high. The Revenue Department says it will need to train 2,000 to 3,000 people statewide in the use of the tracking system. There will have to be background checks, not just for the owners of pot shops, but for all of their employees, to ensure they are not convicted felons and they are residents of Colorado. And there will need to be regular inspections of the shops to make sure they are complying with the law.

Colorado’s ongoing experiment with legalized marijuana will take another large step in January when retail outlets begin to open. The regulations being discussed in Denver this week are necessary measures to allow the state to take that next step in as rational a manner as possible.


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