Pot Task Force’s ‘Strict’ Rules May Keep Feds Away

March 14, 2013

The report, which includes 58 recommendations, was sent Wednesday to the state legislature

DENVER–Still no word from the Justice Department on Colorado’s decision to legalize pot for adults, but the chairman of the state marijuana task force said Wednesday that he believes the state’s sober approach will keep the feds at bay.

Jack Finlaw, co-chairman of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, said the 165-page report released Wednesday shows that Colorado is taking seriously its responsibility to regulate marijuana, keep it away from children, and prevent it from leaving the state.

“I think the federal government needs to know that we are endorsing a very rigid, very strict regulatory framework,” said Finlaw. “I believe if we can convince that that we are able to do all of that, they’ll take the same attitude toward adult use recreational marijuana that they have toward medical marijuana.”

The report, which includes 58 recommendations, was sent Wednesday to the state legislature, which has formed a joint committee to review the task force’s proposals. Another copy was sent to U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh to convey to Attorney General Eric Holder.

A dozen former federal drug officials have called for Holder to enforce the federal law by cracking down on Colorado and Washington efforts to legalize recreational marijuana.

Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the department was still reviewing marijuana-legalization measures passed by voters in Colorado and Washington. Marijuana is banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act, although the Justice Department in 2009 allowed states to proceed with medical marijuana in the aftermath of voter-approved initiatives.

Given the lack of federal input, both states have moved forward with developing a regulatory framework for marijuana cultivation, distribution and sales.

The Colorado task force’s recommendations include requiring companies to have common ownership “from seed to sale,” while allowing only Coloradans to grow, process and sell marijuana. At the same time, the report recommends allowing out-of-state visitors to purchase marijuana, known as “marijuana tourism.”

The report also calls for child-proof packaging on all types of marijuana sold, and warning labels that disclose the content of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, as well as a ban on mass-market advertising likely to reach those under 21.

“Our expectation is they [federal officials] will look at this report  and use it as a baseline to determine their next response to Colorado,” said Mr. Finlaw. “I think to the extent that they haven’t given us specific guidance, in some way, that is guidance. I think what we’ve heard from them is, they want to hear how we’re going to implement Amendment 64 before they respond fully.”

Mr. Finlaw said there was general agreement on most issues before the task force, which included state and local officials, law enforcement and marijuana activists. One issue left unresolved was how to define what constitutes open and public consumption of marijuana, which is prohibited under Amendment 64.

“I think half of the task force thought people should be able to smoke marijuana on their front or back porch, and the other half thought that maybe they should not be able to do that,” said Mr. Finlaw, who also serves as legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Hopefully an agreement can be reached during the legislative process.”

The recommendations endorse a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana as well as a special marijuana sales tax, but the task force stopped short of deciding on a number. A working group recommended a 25 percent sales tax, but others were concerned that figure would be too high and “might allow a black market to persist,” said Mr. Finlaw.

Amendment 64 requires the legislature to enact regulations on recreational marijuana by July 1. The state is scheduled to begin issuing licenses for marijuana grow and retail licenses Oct. 1.

Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, said the recommendations give “first dibs” on licenses to current medical-marijuana businesses. Decisions such as whether to allow marijuana social clubs would be left to local jurisdictions.

“I see this as a gift to the legislature, and fortunately, I think they see this that way as well,” said Mr. Finlaw.

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