Lighting joint won’t put you in the ‘joint’

Consider Colorado’s venture into marijuana legalization officially under way—at least the legalization part.

By issuing a proclamation Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper made official the Nov. 6 vote by Coloradans—who passed Amendment 64 by a 55—45 margin, with nearly 2.5 million votes cast on the measure.

As of Monday, if you are 21 years or older, Colorado law allows you to have less than an ounce of pot. For the green thumbs out there, you can legally grow six plants, as well.

But also as of Monday, the clock is ticking on legislators to figure out how to respond. So in concert with the proclamation, Gov. Hickenlooper announced the formation of a 24-member task force to confront issues of implementation.

The group’s co-chairmen will be the governor’s chief legal counsel, Jack Finlaw, and Barbara Brohl, the executive director of the state revenue department. The other task force members represent stakeholders of all stripes.

The amendment compels that a regulatory framework be set up by July 1, 2013, so the group will have to hit the ground running. The issues challenging them are numerous, and complex.

They are expected to address having to amend current state laws, and the possibility of adding new statutes governing marijuana testing, manufacturing, retail shops, hemp cultivation and driving while under the influence.

There may be new procedures to deal with all stages of licensing, qualifications for owning a pot shop, security requirements for those stores, health and safety, advertising, and penalties for noncompliance.

The state wants to look at health effects as well—both long-term and short-term. Numerous issues surround workplace and employment allowances, too.

If that weren’t enough, the task force hopes to reconcile an inherent conflict with federal law, which still considers marijuana a controlled substance. The federal government’s murky stance on enforcement hangs over all the decisions like a cloud.

The governor’s executive order calls on the task force to report to him, the state’s attorney general, and the general assembly—presumably on a great number of these issues—by the end of February next year.

Hickenlooper could grant an extension by executive order, but the amendment’s July 1 deadline still looms large.

All meetings of the task force are open to the public, and the first meeting of the group is scheduled Dec. 17 in Golden.

“It is very complicated,” said Kevin Bommer, deputy director with the Colorado Municipal League, in a recent interview before he was named to the task force. “Whatever (task force members) do, they are going to have to do it quick with that July 1 timeline.”

Former U.S. Congressman John Salazar, current state commissioner of agriculture, was named to the group.

Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney John Walsh, who represents the district of Colorado, released a statement that re-established the federal government’s official position.

“The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress,” he wrote.

It is still illegal to buy or sell marijuana, and still against the law to consume it in public or in a way that “endangers” others, according to Colorado law.

Governor’s task force to implement Amendment 64

Co-chair: Jack Finlaw, the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel
Co-chair: Barbara Brohl, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue

Rep. Dan Pabon, appointed by the incoming Speaker of the House;
Sen. Cheri Jahn, appointed by the incoming President of the Senate;
Rep.-elect Dan Nordberg, appointed by the incoming House Minority Leader;
Sen.-elect Vicki Marble, appointed by the incoming Senate Minority Leader;
David Blake, representing the Colorado Attorney General;
Kevin Bommer, representing the Colorado Municipal League;
Eric Bergman, representing Colorado Counties Inc.;
Chris Urbina, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment;
James Davis, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety;
John Salazar, the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture;
Ron Kammerzell, the Senior Director responsible for the Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division;
Christian Sederberg, representing the campaign to pass Amendment 64;
Meg Sanders, representing the medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation industry;
Craig Small, representing marijuana consumers;
Sam Kamin, a person with expertise in legal issues related to the legalization of marijuana;
Dr. Christian Thurstone, a person with expertise in the treatment of marijuana addiction;
Charles Garcia, representing the Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice;
Larry Abrahamson, representing the Colorado District Attorney’s Council;
Brian Connors, representing the Colorado State Public Defender;
Daniel Zook, an at-large member from outside of the Denver area;
Tamra Ward, representing the interests of employers; and
Mike Cerbo, representing the interests of employees.


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