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Governor officially legalizes marijuana in Colorado

Published On: Dec 10 2012 01:08:06 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 10 2012 11:46:26 PM CST

But many unresolved issues remain.


Marijuana for recreational use is now effectively legal in Colorado.

Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment part of the state constitution on Monday.  It was the last procedural step needed for Amendment 64, passed by voters last month, to take effect.

The drug became legal in Washington state last week.

Hickenlooper said that voters were "loud and clear" when they voted  to make pot legal without a doctor's recommendation. Adults 21 and older may now possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or six plants.

It remains illegal under state law to buy or sell marijuana in any quantity and to consume marijuana in public or in a way that endangers others.

Still, there are many unresolved issues.  The Colorado Springs City Council discussed the law with its city attorney on Monday.

"Our police officers need to be trained on how to enforce, or not enforce, possession of marijuana," Councilman Bernie Herpin said.  "The city may have to decide whether to change ordinances, ban retail marijuana sales, or decide how the drug will be sold.  We still don't know how the feds will look at it.  Will people have to prove they acquired their marijuana legally?" 

It's unclear how the current medical marijuana system may be involved with recreational marijuana.  However, Herpin said medical dispensaries must choose whether to be involved with one or the other, and not both.

Herpin said a separate distribution system for recreational marijuana won't happen at least until next fall when the state begins offering retail licenses to sell the drug.  Cities may begin determining their own sales rules next summer, Herpin said, if the state hasn't done so by then.

Sgt. Joe Roybal of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said there's some concern among law enforcement that more people will use marijuana, leading to more citations, and criminals could step in to be illegal suppliers until a new distribution system arises.  But he said he's not overly concerned.

"We didn't have that many increases (in citations) with medical marijuana," said Roybal.  "People seemed to be responsible with it.  We're hoping they'll do the same with recreational marijuana."

Herpin said cities have three options to repeal the law -- by approving an ordinance, through a petition drive, and by a public vote.  However, Herpin said none of those can be proposed until 2014 in accordance with state law.

To help inform the upcoming legislative process, Hickenlooper also signed an executive order to create a task force on the implementation of Amendment 64.

The task force will consider and resolve a number of policy, legal and procedural issues, involving various interests and stakeholders, to implement the new constitutional amendment.  Dan Zook, El Paso County's chief deputy district attorney, is a member of the task force.

Colorado and Washington officials both have asked the U.S. Department of Justice for guidance on the laws, which conflict with federal drug law.  Neither state will allow commercial sales for a year or more.


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