Getting Down to Business of Marijuana In Colorado

Govonor John W Hickenlooper speaking hbtv hemp beach tvIt has been a little over a month since Coloradans approved a groundbreaking law legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Now that the celebratory haze has settled, state officials and marijuana advocates on Monday began sifting through the thorny regulatory questions that go beyond merely lighting up.

Among them: Who can sell marijuana? How should consumer safety be accounted for? How might employers and employees be affected by the new law?

At a packed meeting at a state building in this suburb west of Denver, a task force convened by Gov. John W. Hickenlooper began wrestling with some of these questions in an effort to forge a framework for how the law should work.

The task force, made up of designees from an array of state offices as well as various marijuana advocates, weighed in on matters including the identification of marijuana revenue sources and the prospect of the federal government cracking down on the drug.

“We’re not here to have a discussion on whether legalizing marijuana was the right thing to do,” said Jack Finlaw, Mr. Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel and a co-chairman of the task force. “Our job is to find ways of efficiently and effectively implementing it.”

Colorado’s Amendment 64 sets the stage for marijuana to be regulated much like alcohol. But the state will have a whole new set of variables to consider, like licensing retail facilities and determining what sort of security measures stores should have.

And Mr. Finlaw said he was not sure that alcohol could be used as a model for marijuana, given the inevitable differences in how it would be sold.

Aside from the regulatory challenges of moving from a black market to a legitimate one, there are also health issues to be considered. Dr. Chris Urbina, the executive director of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, raised the prospect that marijuana should be regulated differently depending on whether it is smoked or eaten.

“We expect this to be challenging,” said Mark Couch, a spokesman for Colorado’s Department of Revenue, which will be largely responsible for regulating the sale and use of marijuana.

“The department does have some experience with licensing and regulating products that have certain restrictions,” Mr. Couch said. “Obviously, that is complicated by the fact that federal law makes this product illegal.”

In an interview last week with Barbara Walters, President Obama assuaged the fears of marijuana proponents, saying the federal government would not pursue marijuana users in states where the drug is now legal.

But it was still unclear whether the Justice Department would permit stores in Colorado and Washington, which also legalized marijuana in November, to sell the drug, leaving it in a regulatory netherworld when it comes to federal law.

Barbara Brohl, the executive director of the state’s Department of Revenue and a co-chairwoman of the task force, said Colorado was consulting with officials in Washington State as it moved through its own process.

Christian Sederberg, a Denver lawyer who is on the task force and whose law firm helped draft Amendment 64, said he thought Colorado was well positioned to settle on new regulations, given that medical marijuana was already legal here.

Still, Mr. Sederberg said that medical marijuana rules were undergoing substantial revisions in Colorado and that there was clearly a need for distinct regulations for recreational use.

“I’m of the opinion that we have a very good base to work with on the policies Amendment 64 intended to push forward and how those policies fit in with regulations already in place,” he said.

The task force has until the end of February to make recommendations to Mr. Hickenlooper; the state attorney general, John W. Suthers; and the General Assembly. The regulations must be completed by July 1.

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