Now that it’s legal, what’s next?

Pot-law vagaries leave many dazed, confused

With the recent passage of Amendment 64, anyone 21 or older can light up a marijuana joint in Colorado. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald photo illustration

With the recent passage of Amendment 64, anyone 21 or older can light up a marijuana joint in Colorado.

Now that it is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in Colorado, local and state officials must craft regulations governing the sale and taxation of the mind-altering herb.

Until then, some confusion remains about the new law.

“There are a lot of questions to be answered in this,” said Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen. “Everybody is confused on how we’re going to deal with the sale and taxing of this product.”

It is now legal for people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six plants in their home. The law does not allow people to consume the drug in public or drive a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana.

Federal law still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, illegal to grow, consume or distribute. But President Barack Obama said recreational use of marijuana in states that have legalized it should not be a “top priority” for federal law enforcement.

A state task force has been set up to hash out details of the law, including distribution, taxation and adjustments to the criminal code. They have until July 1 to put regulations in place.

While the new law forbids consuming marijuana in public, there is no statute on the books that allows police officers to cite offenders for public consumption, Spratlen said.

Officers used to charge people with possession of marijuana if they were caught smoking it, but now it is legal to possess the drug, so the law no longer applies, he said.

“If they smoke in public, we’re supposed to tell them, ‘no,’” Spratlen said. “We really don’t have an ordinance that says they can’t smoke in public, even though the law that comes into effect says it is (not legal to smoke in public). You’ve got nothing to charge them on.”

Until new laws and regulations are adopted, Spratlen said officers will do the following:

If people 21 and older have six plants or fewer, they will not be charged.

If people have more than six plants and are not part of the medical marijuana community, they will be arrested for felony possession.

If people 21 and older are in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, they will not be cited.

If people are caught smoking marijuana in a public place and are not in violation of the city’s new smoking ordinance, they will be issued a written warning until a new state law or city ordinance is adopted that allows police to cite them. If the smoke affects a person younger than 18, in public or private, offenders could be arrested for child endangerment, child abuse or contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Driving under the influence of marijuana remains a crime.

Possession, distribution and smoking marijuana remains prohibited at Fort Lewis College, said spokesman Mitch Davis. The college receives federal funding, he said, and allowing marijuana use could jeopardize that money.

In addition, there is virtually no place on campus where marijuana can be used, even under Amendment 64, he said. Smoking is not permitted in the dorms, and the other buildings on campus are public, which makes it illegal to smoke marijuana in those locations.

“You can’t smoke cigarettes in residence halls, so you wouldn’t be allowed to smoke marijuana in a residence hall,” Davis said. “From a practical standpoint, I’m having a hard time seeing how we could do it.”

Other than procedural headaches, the legalization of marijuana has resulted in few incidents since Gov. John Hickenlooper certified the vote Dec. 10.

There was no flash mob that formed under the college clocktower at FLC with students lighting joints in celebration, as was the case at the Space Needle in Washington state, which passed a similar law in November.

Lawmakers likely will draw from existing liquor laws and medical marijuana regulations in crafting new laws for recreational use. They also will consider the rights of employers and employees regarding drug testing.

Liquor laws require people to be 21 or older, and people cannot consume alcohol in public or drive under the influence – the same will be true for marijuana.

Lawmakers also could draw from existing medical marijuana regulations when it comes to requiring dispensaries to have surveillance systems and requiring employees to pass background checks and be licensed to sell marijuana.

The medical marijuana industry largely supported the legalization of marijuana, said Jordan Smith, a Western Slope manager for Rocky Mountain High, a Denver-based dispensary with seven centers, including one in Durango.

“It is less dangerous than alcohol, and it helps a lot of people,” she said.

It seems clear the new law will generate “marijuana tourism,” Smith said.

Since voters approved Amendment 64, the Durango dispensary has been flooded with phone calls from out-of-state residents wanting to know if they can purchase the drug, Smith said.

She explains the law does not yet allow for the distribution of recreational marijuana.

“I get phone calls all day,” she said. “It will also be interesting how other states deal with the fact that their own residents can come over here, purchase, and then they go home.”

shane@durangoherald.com

Lawmakers must set about crafting regulations for the sale and taxation of marijuana. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

Lawmakers must set about crafting regulations for the sale and taxation of marijuana.

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