Let pot law haze clear, counties told

Dude, just drop out.

That’s the thrust of the recommendations being made to county commissioners across the state by the influential Colorado Counties Inc. regarding the recent passage of Amendment 64, which effectively legalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and compels the state to come up with a regulatory framework for future retail sales.

CCI last week presented a rigorous analysis of the amendment at its winter conference.

The basic message to county lawmakers: Their best bet right now is to exercise the municipal “opt out” provision allowed by the amendment.

The new law includes a deadline for the state to have a specific regulatory system in place — July 1, 2013. It also includes a date — Oct. 1, 2013 — by which counties must be set up to process licenses for retail establishments, if the state doesn’t get its act together by then.

The group making the analysis of the impacts expected by Amendment 64 concluded that the path to that stage is, well, hazy.

“(It) seems to allow counties the right to get ahead of the State, but does not require it,” a PowerPoint slide reads.

That leaves counties with two options, according to the CCI presenters — move to opt out, or create a local license authority.

If counties opt for the latter, they’re then faced with the choice of enacting their own local standards, waiting for further state guidelines, or taking no action and relying on possible minimum statutory standards.

Another slide rhetorically asks the question: “(Is it) safer to opt out by ordinance, pending legislation?”

Mesa County commissioners Steve Acquafresca and Craig Meis attended the presentation, and both came away with the impression that the best option is to exercise the opt-out and let the regulatory framework work itself into focus. Then, a future board could potentially revisit any moratorium.

“The referendum does put a huge burden on the Legislature to develop a regulatory structure and system, and the timelines on all this just don’t add up. They are contradictory,” Acquafresca said.

Meis called the additional confusion regarding conflict with federal law “unbelievable” and said it adds another layer of uncertainty. Even though it may be legal to possess marijuana in Colorado, based on the amendment, it’s still a federal crime under the Controlled Substances Act.

That inherent conflict has been front-burner since Colorado passed Amendment 20, allowing for medical marijuana, in 2000. It blew up in 2009, when Deputy U.S. Attorney David Ogden advised that federal resources should not be used to prosecute people in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

That opened the floodgates for medical marijuana dispensaries to proliferate across the state.

Today there are more dispensaries in Denver than Starbucks and McDonald’s restaurants combined, according to the CCI presenters, who represented the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Jefferson and Eagle counties.

“The federal government is going to have to provide some guidance on this — how they are going to enforce or if they are going to enforce,” Meis said. “I think that’s why (CCI is) suggesting we should abandon it until there’s more clarity.”

Some municipalities are being proactive, including the city of Montrose. On Tuesday, the City Council there adopted a moratorium on review of applications for retail dispensaries of recreational marijuana. The Delta City Council appears poised to pass a similar moratorium at its next meeting on Dec. 18.


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