Joint panel lights into making new rules

How to go about dealing with marijuana up in air

DENVER – Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, the Legislature’s new committee on legalized marijuana is indeed called the Joint Select Committee on the Implementation of the Amendment 64 Task Force Recommendations.

“Joint” refers not to the thing that’s now legal to roll up and smoke in Colorado, but to the mundane fact that senators and representatives both serve on the panel.

Jokes aside – and there have been plenty at the Capitol – the lawmakers have the serious task of setting up a brand new regulatory department for legalized pot by the time they go home in May.

They’ll use a 166-page report from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s task force, which wrapped up its work early this month. The Legislature’s first pot meeting was Friday afternoon, and it aims to have legislation drafted by the end of the month.

With Amendment 64, voters told the state to have rules in place for pot growers and sellers by July 1, with the first licenses issued by New Year’s Day 2014.

“We’re going to have, I’m sure, a lot of discussion and debate about what should and shouldn’t be included in this legislation to implement Amendment 64,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, chairman of the joint committee.

Hickenlooper’s task force recommended a vertical integration model from “seed to sale” for marijuana businesses, meaning they will have to grow and sell their own pot.

The task force also recommended that:

Only Colorado residents be allowed to get licenses to grow and sell pot.

Both residents and visitors be allowed to buy pot.

The Legislature ask voters for a 15 percent excise tax and a special marijuana sales tax to pay for the costs of regulating the new industry.

Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Department of Revenue, spent much of the joint committee’s first meeting reviewing the work of Hickenlooper’s task force.

The task force recommended Brohl’s agency take the lead on regulating marijuana.

A major concern for everyone is the role of the federal government. Colorado officials have asked the U.S. Department of Justice several times and are still waiting to hear how Washington will prosecute federal drug laws in this state.

However, Brohl said federal officials have sent signals that they are looking for Colorado to adopt a well-funded and “robust” system of regulations, make sure pot doesn’t get diverted to the black market and make sure it’s kept away from children. The task force shared those goals, she said.

“We were very mindful of trying to keep the gray market and black market from flourishing,” Brohl said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com