Governor signs Amendment 64, marijuana officially legal in Colorado

DENVER — Go ahead and bust out the Cheetos and Goldfish, Colorado. Marijuana is now legal in the Centennial State.

Just over a month after the citizens of Colorado voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amendment 64 to legalize marijuana for recreational use, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Executive Order that makes an “official declaration of the vote.”

What does it mean?

“It formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older,” the Governor’s office wrote in a press release.

That said, the release went on to say that that it is still illegal to buy or sell marijuana or to consume marijuana in public.

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Confused? Don’t expect that feeling to become allayed anytime soon, the Governor’s office said.

Using marijuana is still prohibited under federal law. The federal Justice Department is still reviewing how it wants to handle the laws passed in Colorado and Washington, but U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado John Walsh said the department’s “responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”

“Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress,” Walsh said in a statement.

But with the appointment of the Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64, also announced Monday, the Governor hopes that the rules about how marijuana regulation in Colorado will soon be established.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, poses with Ean Seeb, co-owner of Denver Relief, one of the state's largest dispensaries, holding Cheetos and Goldfish, the two things Hickenlooper told marijuana users not to "bust out" too quickly in the wake of Amendment 64's passage. (Photo: Denver Relief Consulting)

Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, poses with Ean Seeb, co-owner of Denver Relief, one of the state’s largest dispensaries, holding Cheetos and Goldfish, the two things Hickenlooper told marijuana users not to “bust out” too quickly in the wake of Amendment 64’s passage. (Photo: Denver Relief Consulting)

“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Hickenlooper said. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”

The Task Force will be co-chaired by Jack Finlaw, the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel, and Barbara Brohl, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue. There will be 24 total members on the group.

According to the press release, issues that the task force will address include:

  • The need to amend current state and local laws regarding the possession, sale, distribution or transfer of marijuana and marijuana products to conform them to Amendment 64’s decriminalization provisions
  • The need for new regulations for such things as security requirements for marijuana establishments and for labeling requirements
  • Education regarding long-term health effects of marijuana use and harmful effects of marijuana use by those under the age of 18
  • The impact of Amendment 64 on employers and employees and the Colorado economy.

The task force holds its first public meeting on December 17 and must report its recommendations to the governor’s office no later than February 28.

Washington, the other state to pass the legalization of marijuana in November, officially made the practice legal last week. It could take a year, however, before rules are set for growing and selling pot.

Businesses still uncertain how to treat new rules

According to a national poll, 58 percent of Americans support legalization of marijuana while 39 percent say it should remain illegal.

Businesses in Colorado are also uncertain how to change their policies (if at all) regarding the new rules.

Union workers are setting up a fight between business and organized labor.

“We would vigorously defend our members’ rights to engage in legal, off-duty conduct that has no impact on their job, and the burden would be on the employer to show there is, in fact, an impact of the job,” said Teamsters Local 117 attorney Dan Swedlow.

Medical experts say the marijuana high lasts about two to three hours, but traces of the drug typically remain in the body for up to a week.

How long a person is actually “impaired” after smoking pot is up for debate, but it’s apparently longer than alcohol according to experts.

All sides generally agree that if an employee were to show up to work “high,” they could be fired.

Attorney Jim Shore won a state Supreme Court case for a business that fired a worker over medical marijuana, and he said the ruling still applies, and so should federal law.

“We still have this system of dual sovereignty where regardless of what the state of Washington, or any other state does to legalize marijuana, the federal government still treats marijuana as illegal for all purposes,” Shore said.

“I think it’s dangerous and does have an impact on safety,” said Swedish Medical Center’s Dr. Ray Jarris.

“Do you want to board a plane within 24 hours of your pilot smoking marijuana? I don’t think so,” Jarris said.

Many construction companies already have zero-tolerance drug policies. Owners fear the new law will cost them workers, and make it a lot harder to hire new employees.

“My men have to be very, very clear-headed. And not only that, they are drilling- and the work is dangerous work,” said Larry Gregory who owns a drilling company.

District Attorney’s decide not to prosecute possession cases

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett said last week he will be dismissing all cases of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in Boulder County before Amendment 64 took effect because of the overwhelming support voters showed in favor of the amendment.

“You’ve seen an end to mere possession cases in Boulder County under my office,” Garnett told the Daily Camera newspaper.

Garnett called the decision an “ethical” one, saying the choice to pursue or continue criminal prosecution is driven by whether or not prosecutors have “a reasonable belief that they can get a unanimous conviction by a jury.”

“Given Amendment 64 passed by a more than 2-to-1 margin (in Boulder County), we concluded that it would be inappropriate for us to continue to prosecute simple possession of marijuana less than an ounce and paraphernalia for those over 21,” Garnett continued.

According to the Camera, 66 percent of Boulder County voted in favor of the measure. Amendment 64 will go into effect statewide 30 days after the vote is approved. According to political reporter Eli Stokols, that will likely happen in January.

The DA in Denver county and the chief of police in Aurora have also made similar declarations.

DeGette pushing ahead with Amendment 64 fix

In Washington, Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette plans to introduce legislation this week that would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exempt states that legalize marijuana on their own.

“It’s an elegant fix,” DeGette said, borrowing an adjective from a Denver Post editorial praising her idea and urging lawmakers to get on board.

“We can simply exempt states laws respecting marijuana only from the Controlled Substances Act. So I’m introducing that legislation this week and I’m hoping we’ll have bipartisan support.”

Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, has indicated his willingness to co-sponsor the legislation.

“I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative and I feel obligated to support this legislation,” Coffman told FOX31 Denver.