Marijuana regulations

With Amendment 64’s passage in November, the culture has changed a bit in Colorado, and now the infrastructure governing that culture must follow suit. It is an interesting experiment in real-time policymaking as legislators and the governor scramble to implement voters’ decision to make the sale and use of marijuana for adult recreational use legal in Colorado.

The task force has a lengthy agenda to formulate rules that determine how and where marijuana is sold, how much is too much to consume before driving, what employees’ and employers’ rights are with respect to marijuana use and how to repeal the sections of the state’s criminal code that currently make it illegal to possess or use the substance. These items, as well as a taxing structure related to marijuana sale, must all be drafted to send to the state Legislature by Feb. 28 for consideration and adoption. The state has until July 1 to implement the suite of new laws.

This is no small undertaking, particularly because it involves transitioning a once-illicit substance into something embraced – in statute if not in spirit – by the state of Colorado. There are many who come to the process grudgingly and many who are participating a little too eagerly. But the exercise ultimately is one for grown-ups, and there is a wide range of practical and ethical issues at stake.

Gov. John Hickenlooper was wise to appoint a task force that embodies representatives of that range to tackle the matter. Doing so took the burden off state legislators who have a broader set of issues to concern themselves with, and drafting marijuana regulations requires concentrated attention from experts in the fields of law enforcement, liquor licensing – which could provide a useful regulatory and taxing model – public health and policymaking. The task force is well positioned to send the Legislature a carefully constructed set of rules for adoption.

In the meantime, local governments are in a bit of a waiting game, albeit one they have played before with the implementation of legal marijuana for medicinal purposes. As with medical marijuana dispensaries, local governments can opt out of allowing recreational dispensaries in their bounds.

Durango has allowed medicinal dispensaries but now has placed a moratorium on licensing any new such facilities until the new recreational rules are in place. That makes sense from a government and a business standpoint: There is no need to add a new dispensary to a landscape that is about to change, perhaps dramatically.

Likely, though, the changes will not be earthshaking. The medicinal marijuana regulations are known to be tightly written. The task force would be wise to draw on them, along with well-established liquor-licensing laws, and a relatively clear-cut path to levying an excise tax on the sale of marijuana.

The more difficult work will come in establishing guidelines for how marijuana use interacts with job performance and operating a motor vehicle. It is clear that rules must be crafted. What is less obvious is how to construct fair and objective means by which to measure impairment and protect the rights of all involved.

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