Colorado lawmakers yesterday passed what are being considered the first laws in the nation to regulate adult cannabis use and sales. Among that: when and where cannabis can be sold, limiting how much pot out-of-state visitors can purchase, to where pot magazines can be sold.
The rules still have to go before the governor for signing, but for the most part things seem to be set.
The bills are a mixed bag, for the most part. Yes, they establish a licensing structure and are a major step forward in marijuana policy, but there are a few sticking points when you get into the details.
The state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division will convert to the Marijuana Enforcement Division that will handle both recreational and medical. Only Colorado residents (people who have lived here for two years or more) would be allowed to own and open a recreational shop. The first licenses will be given out to medical marijuana stores that want to switch over.
Those shops will have three months to apply and pay the $500 licensing fee and will be able to transition their existing gardens. That last point is a rough one with some activists, who point out that the existing plants actually belong to the patients that signed the dispensary up as their primary caregiver.
For the first nine moths, recreational marijuana stores will be forced to grow their own product and purchase only 30 percent of what they sell from other licensed shops in a system called "vertical integration". After nine months is up, the idea is that growers will be able to separate themselves from storefront dispensaries and focus on wholesale growing and selling to retailers, much like how alcohol is handled.
While the rule was added by lobbyists plugging for current dispensaries to get a leg-up on competition, Denver marijuana attorney Warren Edson says it might have unintended consequences: "We're going to have a huge increase in demand with no increase in supply. According to state figures, we're expected to go from 100,000 consumers" under the MMJ system "to 1.2 million consumers. That's a ten-fold increase with no preparation for meeting that demand. And cannabis isn't like baking bagels, where, if there's a demand for more of them, you just bake more. You need a two-to-four-month period to grow and properly cure cannabis.
Out-of-staters will only be able to purchase up to a quarter ounce at a time. That said, there's no central registry to purchase cannabis and you only have to show an ID to prove you are 21, so nothing it stopping tourists from going to four dispensaries in a day to get up to an ounce - which is still legal for anyone over 21 to possesses.
The bill does ban pot clubs, collectives and even party buses that allow marijuana. It also clarifies that marijuana is included in Colorado's clean air laws that prohibit smoking indoors in public spaces like bars, restaurants and clubs.
But a lot of this is dependent on funding, which Colorado voters will decide on in November thanks to a second regulatory bill dealing specifically with taxes. House Bill 1318 would impose a 15 percent excise tax on retail sales that goes towards school building funds, as well as a 10 percent special sales tax to pay for regulating the industry on top of the existing 2.9 percent state sales tax. That high percentage means you'd be paying almost $30 in taxes on a $100 half-ounce - a number that many have said is much too high. They also point out that it's far and above what alcohol regulations and taxes are in Colorado.
Some, including Edson, say that is just inviting black-market cannabis sales to flourish which defeats the purpose of Amendment 64 to begin with. "That's a whole lot of money that gives the black market a whole lot of wiggle room," he said.
Other issues addressed by HB 1317 include putting marijuana magazines behind the counter at places like 7-11 alongside pornography. High Times magazine has said they will sue to prevent that from happening.
Another strange addition to the rules over the last few weeks was the limiting of marijuana-infused edible serving sizes. Basically, each serving size can't be over ten milligrams and there can only be a limit of 100 milligrams per package. Considering many edibles companies work with 250 milligrams or higher in their products, this bill could cause a few problems.
"If the concern is somebody getting too much medicated product at one sitting, it doesn't exactly help that issue," Edson said. "There are plenty of Tootsie Roll-type things that are small. If you put 100 milligrams in each one and there are twenty in a package, how does making sure they're wrapped separately make a difference? But it obviously puts a dent into any kind of larger food products, like a whole lasagna or pizza or cake or pie."
But the fun isn't over yet. It really hasn't even begun. After getting a signature from Governor John Hickenlooper the bills will have to be hashed out into regulations by the Department of Revenue by October 1, when the Marijuana Enforcement Division is to begin accepting licenses. The department has until January 1, 2014 to begin issuing those licenses before the amendment says they can open with just the blessing of the local municipality.
Read the entire House Bill 1318 here, and view House Bill 1317 below.