Colorado Passes Landmark Law to Regulate and Tax Recreational Marijuana Use

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 13, 2013

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Not long after sharing the spotlight with Washington when it legalized recreational marijuana use,  Colorado now stands alone as the only state to pass legislation designed to regulate and tax the drug’s sales.  Colorado legislators have passed a series of marijuana bills setting business standards, establishing rules for purchase, and establishing an excise and sales tax on all marijuana transactions within the state.  As Colorado blazes the marijuana trail, legislators and law enforcement look to keep purchase and use of the newly legalized drug responsible and under control with the groundbreaking legislation.

Colorado’s Marijuana Bills

When Governor John Hickenlooper signs the recently passed legislation into official law, the state regulations will set forth the following rules:

  • Marijuana can only be sold in stores with a special license to sell marijuana and related paraphernalia.  Only Colorado residents may own or invest in these stores, and only current medical marijuana dispensaries can be licensed during the first 9 months of the law’s enactment.
  • Colorado residents will be able to purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana – the amount that is legal to possess.  Non-residents may purchase only a quarter of an ounce at a time, and the drug can only be sold in child-resistant packages with labels warning of potency.
  • Voters can impose significant taxes on pot sales, and will be asked in November to approve a 15% excise tax and a 10% sales tax.   The taxes will be used to fund school construction and pay for enforcement of the marijuana laws.
  • Marijuana use will not be permitted in public places such as coffee shops or bars, and marijuana-themed magazines must be kept behind store counters and out of the view of children.
  • Colorado drivers will be subject to a stoned-driving test, and juries can assume anyone above the limit was too high to drive.

These bills, which took over six months of struggle to write and pass, lead the way through uncharted waters, and will be closely monitored by legislators and voters alike.   Two primary objectives – keep pot within state borders and away from children – guided the legislation and will remain the goals of enforcement going forward. 

Colorado’s Marijuana Legislation Under the Microscope

It is premature to speculate on the success or failure of Colorado’s new marijuana legislation, but it can be stated with certainty that these laws will exist under a closely watched bubble by politicians on either side of the aisle.  State Republicans maintained their displeasure throughout the process, and unanimously voted against every single piece of the new legislation regardless of tax and regulatory concessions made.  Proponents, none too happy about the high taxes or licensing restrictions, still have an uphill battle to firmly entrench legalization and regulation of marijuana in state policy.

There will always be vocal opponents to marijuana legalization who will resist any efforts to accept the drug, and at the slightest hint of misstep the voices decrying legal marijuana consumption will grow louder and more persistent.  Under this consistent watch of critics both inside and outside of the state, Colorado’s new laws have little room for error as they attempt to keep marijuana sale and use under control.  Although flexible tax increases will likely placate critics in the same manner as taxes on tobacco, the laws must be closely monitored and well enforced, particularly in the early stages. 

Future of Legalized Marijuana

National opinion on recreational marijuana consumption seems to be gradually shifting in favor of legalization, and, although Federal law is not likely to change any time in the near or distant future, should Colorado’s, and, later, Washington’s, laws successfully control marijuana use then a series of legalization dominoes could fall in a handful of states across the country.  Several heavily liberal states have already attempted to allow recreational marijuana use, and success in Colorado and Washington may be enough to give proponents the evidence needed for a final push.

As states edge closer to widespread legalization, legislators around the country will keep an eye on Colorado’s new law for guidance, and, although the law limits the sale and use of marijuana to Colorado’s borders, its impact will be felt across the country in the months and years to come.  Despite the scrutiny, in the face of an uncertain future, and wary of critics lurking, marijuana proponents can, for now, claim a landmark victory and raise a pipe to toast the suddenly promising future of legalized cannabis.

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