Marijuana Law D-Day Approaching

by Rick Langenberg:






The passage of Amendment 64, the new law that will soon allow residents over 21 to possess, grow or use a limited amount of marijuana for recreational purposes, is raising more questions than answers. However, despite some initial confusion, the enforcement clock is ticking for local law officers who want to cite people for cannabis-related offenses.

In recent weeks, the subject of legal pot has been a big subject of conversation among county officials, law enforcement authorities, state politicians and even advocates of the medical marijuana industry. And in the preliminary planning stages, no clear course has been set, even among the pro-cannabis crowd. Advocates of Amendment 64 are somewhat divided by those who want to use the “political capital” they may have earned from their surprisingly, strong victory on Nov. 6, to those who want to take a more cautionary approach to avoid clashes with the feds.

Marijuana is still considered an illegal, Controlled Substance that is viewed in a similar manner as heroin in the eyes of the feds. State and local government officials are now trying to wrestle with how to regulate certain aspects of the new law, such as banning the use of pot in public areas. The impacts of Amendment 64 emerged as a hot topic during a recent conference of the Colorado Counties, Inc, the main lobbying group for county elected leaders across the state, in Colorado Springs.

The city of Woodland Park will become one of the first municipalities in the area to take a stab at grappling with Amendment 64. This Wednesday (Dec. 5), the Woodland Park City Council may enact a marijuana moratorium. What that means is that the city won’t license any establishment or compile new rules for retail establishments, at least for 90 days. According to head attorney Erin Smith, a moratorium will give the city a temporary time-out and give it a chance to see how the new legislation plays out. Most likely, Smith has indicated that the city, if it wants to be consistent with its stand against future medical marijuana establishments, may impose a permanent ban against any commercial outlets that want or plan to sell cannabis to customers for recreational purposes.

Several El Paso County commissioners have indicated that they would take a similar stand and vote for a commercial-cannabis opt out measure, which is permitted through Amendment 64. The issue also may be discussed this Thursday by the Teller County commissioners.

To date, the Teller leaders have taken a more middle of the road stance regarding the marijuana landscape, compared to officials in Woodland Park and Cripple Creek. The Teller commissioners were preparing to conduct detailed hearings a year and a half ago on new land use rules for medical marijuana establishments, but then pulled the plug on the process due to the changing stand of the federal government.

However, once Amendment 64 is signed into law on Jan. 5, local law officers won’t be able to bust anyone 21 or older for smoking pot or even growing marijuana, as long as they don’t exceed the limits of the amendment. The law allows a person to have an ounce or less of marijuana and to grow six plants. But until the rules are enacted later this summer, they won’t be able to buy pot at a commercial establishment.

Some leading law enforcement officials are privately hoping that the federal government intervenes and files an injunction against the law. But that could be wishful thinking, according to proponents of Amendment 64. The law was passed by a 55 percent margin statewide and even was approved in such conservative hubs as Teller and El Paso counties.

Conversations have been held between Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Eric Holder regarding policy issues pertaining to marijuana with little resolution. The Obama administration has conveyed extremely mixed signals regarding its plans in enforcing federal laws against marijuana. Initially, his administration in 2009 indicated it would take a hands-off approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that authorized the medical use of the drug, only to reverse itself two years later and suggest through the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office that federal officers may raid medical marijuana outlets. Plus, this office has shown little sign of changing its position, following the Amendment 64 vote.

Advocates of Amendment 64 are also quite divided between those who want to turn Colorado into the new “Woodstock of the marijuana movement,” to those looking for an amicable compromise. Some of the leading pro-cannabis attorneys, such as activist Rob Curry, have suggested that the new law could set the stage for private Amsterdam-style coffee shops and large-scale marijuana cooperatives that produce pounds of pot. But other cannabis industry advocates are worried about setting a free-for-all pot haven that will produce a backlash.

Several key local representatives of the medical marijuana industry attended a forum among industry proponents to evaluate their next course of action.