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Hickenlooper signs bills regulating, taxing legal marijuana in Colorado

DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made history Tuesday morning by signing several bills concerning the implementation of legal marijuana into law.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, opposed Amendment 64, which voters approved last November.

During a signing ceremony at the state capitol, Hickenlooper said the bills “provide clarity and create common sense regulations” for legal marijuana.

“Certainly, this industry will create jobs,” Hickenlooper said. “Whether it’s good for the brand of our state is still up in the air. But the voters passed Amendment 64 by a clear majority. That’s why we’re going to implement it as effectively as we possibly can.”

During this year’s legislative session, which ended earlier this month, lawmakers found themselves in uncharted waters, attempting to create a new regulatory framework and taxation model for legal marijuana.

“When you’re in uncharted territory, you need a North Star,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who spearheaded the effort to create and pass these bills. “The North Star that we used was public safety and making sure that we kept this out of the hands of kids, cartels and criminals.”

Much of the legislation stemmed from a statewide task force of community leaders and industry stakeholders, whose recommendations were turned into legislation by a committee of lawmakers at the Capitol.

The regulatory bill, House Bill 1317, dictates that Coloradans can by up to an ounce of marijuana in specially licensed stores that can also sell pot-related items such as pipes.

Only Colorado residents can own or invest in the stores, and only current medical-marijuana dispensary owners can apply to open recreational pot shops for the first nine months. The first stores will open around Jan. 1.

The legislation also limits out-of-state purchasers to buying only a quarter-ounce at a time. Additionally, pot must be sold in child-resistant packages with labels that specify potency; and edible marijuana products will have serving-size limits.

House Bill 1318, also being signed into law Tuesday, concerns the tax rates for marijuana that voters will weigh in on this November.

Under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, voters must approve any new taxes.

Lawmakers struggled with a rate that would provide enough revenue to fund the new regulatory infrastructure and pay for the constructions of new schools as Amendment 64 promised it would without being so onerous that marijuana buyers will eschew legal pot for lower prices on the black market.

In the end, they agreed on a 15 percent excise tax rate and a 10 percent sales tax rate. Combined with existing state and local taxes, the marijuana sin tax will be close to 30 percent of the overall price.

Republicans, who argued that the rates are too high, unanimously opposed the bill.

Hickenlooper said it’s critical that voters approve the tax rates.

“We want to make sure we get this to be self-funded, so it’s not taking money away from education,” he said.

Lawmakers also passed House Bill 1325, which will set a presumptive five nano-gram bloodstream limit for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs.

H.B. 1325 marked the third effort by lawmakers to enact a DUID standard this year, something law enforcement demanded after the passage of Amendment 64.

“At the end of the day, I think this is probably going to be the most important public safety legislation that is signed into law this year,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, who introduced the DUID legislation six times in the last three years before finally succeeding in passing it at the end of this year’s session.

Medical marijuana patients decried the proposal, which was killed twice before it finally survived the state Senate, arguing that they almost always have more than five nano-grams of Delta-9 THC in their bloodstream and don’t consider themselves impaired.

Mason Tvert, the activist who led the push to legalize marijuana in Colorado, applauded Hickenlooper and the lawmakers for their diligence on this issue, and noted that the new laws will likely guide other states that legalize marijuana in the future.

“We are going to see a very big change here in our nation over the next several years,” Tvert told FOX31 Denver. “And Colorado will really be at the root of much of it.”