Pot on the patio? Colorado's 'surreal' path to legalizing marijuana.
Colorado's Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force is wading through the weeds of marijuana legalization, creating regulations to take pot from the shadows out into the open.
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Colorado, a pioneer state with heavy libertarian leanings, has become a major destination for free-spirited young Americans. This makes it an apt legalization laboratory, suggests Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).Skip to next paragraph
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Colorado has already led the way in setting up separate taxation and code enforcement for medical marijuana dispensaries, which the state approved in 2000. Today, there are more dispensaries in Denver than there are liquor stores.
Moreover, the Amendment 64 task force's work comes as a growing numbers of states and even Congress begin seriously deliberating medical marijuana and decriminalization. According to NORML, 10 states are proposing outright legalization bills, 15 are eyeing medical marijuana bills, and five are considering industrial hemp bills. In total, 25 states are considering more than 45 separate pro-marijuana proposals. On Thursday, Maine lawmakers introduced a Colorado-style bill that would legalize and regulate marijuana to allow adults to use it for recreational purposes.
"Colorado is going to be our first vetting, and they're going to have to go set the standard for a good part of the country on everything from public safety, workplace impairment, custody of children, and defining public use," says Mr. St. Pierre.
That fact has steered the task force's work down peculiar pathways, says Ms. Susman. Some questions are proving difficult to answer. One, she says, is how the state deals with legal smokers who light up in front of children. Other issues include how to appease insurance companies with clear financial interests in the health of consumers, government and law enforcement's responsibility to keep the public safe, and the role of making sure consumers have incentive to use the drug responsibly.
Part of the challenge will be to prove to the federal government that the state is solving a societal problem, not creating or fueling one.
"If the task force members are savvy, they will try to create a regulatory structure that's going to draw the least attention from the federal government as possible," says Rob Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Indeed, the task force has found itself in a position where it might want to lean on the federal government in order to resolve some of the issues. Trying to limit the amount of pot that out-of-state buyers can purchase, for example, "could violate constitutional norms," and could create a situation where the state "wouldn't mind if the federal government intervened, to crack down on the tourism aspect," Mr. Mikos says.
Given such paradoxes, Ms. Susman says she's caught herself many times during task force deliberations pondering the enormity, and sometimes absurdity, of its task. For example, by setting a very low cap on how much marijuana an out-of-state visitor can buy – say an eighth of an ounce – the state can make it prohibitively expensive for drug dealers to use the state as a source.
"If they're going to resell it, they'd have to pay retail 128 times to buy a pound," she says. "Discussing something like that makes me almost want to giggle."
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