DENVER–Marijuana was officially declared legal Monday for adult recreational use in Colorado–sort of.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order validating the outcome of Amendment 64, the successful November ballot measure decriminalizing the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana for adults 21 and over.
Then he named a 24-member task force to “consider and resolve a number of policy, legal and procedural issues” related to implementing Amendment 64, now part of the Colorado Constitution.
“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”
The only hitch? The Justice Department has yet to signal whether it will respect the will of Colorado voters and allow the state to proceed with adult legalization, or continue to enforce federal law, which bans marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal substance.
Until Attorney General Eric Holder weighs in on the issue, anything done by Colorado lawmakers could be about as permanent as a puff of smoke.
The governor acknowledged that he was moving forward despite the absence of federal guidance. Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a Nov. 14 letter to Holder seeking information, but so far the state has received no response.
“As we move forward now with implementation of Amendment 64, we will try to maintain as much flexibility as possible to accommodate the federal government’s position on the amendment,” Hickenlooper said.
Voters in Colorado and Washington became the first states to decriminalize adult recreational marijuana use in the Nov. 6 election.
Washington’s law went into effect Saturday, and pot-smokers celebrated by lighting up under the Space Needle in Seattle in a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to midnight. Washington officials are also awaiting word from the federal government on how it plans to react to the conflict in state and federal drug laws.
Despite the uncertainty, Colorado marijuana advocates were in a mood to celebrate Monday’s proclamation. A dozen joint-smokers posed for television cameras outside the state capitol shortly after the governor issued the election declaration.
“This is a truly historic day. From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana,” said Mason Tvert, who coordinated the Amendment 64 campaign, in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately.”
Tvert, who now serves as spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-pot group, said the organization looks forward to “working with the governor’s office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64. We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow.”
At a press conference Monday, Hickenlooper said he remains concerned about the signal that legalized pot will send to children and teenagers.
“If we are concerned about young people thinking that this is not an issue for them, and that this is really in some way a tacit endorsement that it’s okay to smoke pot–we’re trying to mitigate that as much as possible,” said Hickenlooper.
Dozens of questions remain unanswered, including where to buy legal pot and whether voters will approve an excise tax on marijuana in the next election. The task force is expected to begin addressing legalization issues at its first meeting Monday, Dec. 17, at the Department of Revenue in Golden.