And then there were two. On Monday, December 10, 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order certifying last month’s Amendment 64 victory and legalizing the use, possession, and limited cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over.
Colorado now joins Washington as states where voters approved marijuana legalization last month and where the will of the voters has now become law. In both states, it is only the possession (and cultivation in Colorado) parts of the new laws that are now in effect. Officials in Denver and Olympia have a matter of some months to craft and enact regulatory schemes for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution — provided the federal government does not seek to block them from doing so.
While the federal government may seek to block implementation of regulations, it cannot make the two states recriminalize marijuana possession. And the states have no obligation to enforce federal marijuana laws.
In both states, however, it remains illegal to sell marijuana or cultivate it commercially pending the enactment of regulatory schemes. Still, pot possession is now legal in Washington and Colorado.
“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Hickenlooper wrote. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”
In addition to the executive order certifying the election results, Hickenlooper also signed an executive order establishing a 24-person task force charged with coming up with a way to implement Amendment 64’s taxation and regulation provisions. The task force consists of government officials and other stakeholders, including representatives of medical marijuana patients producers and non-medical consumers, and will make recommendations to the legislature on how to establish a commercial marijuana market.
“All stakeholders share an interest in creating efficient and effective regulations that provide for the responsible development of the new marijuana laws,” the executive order said. “As such, there is a need to create a task force through which we can coordinate and create a regulatory structure that promotes the health and safety of the people of Colorado.”
Issues that will be addressed 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; and the impact of Amendment 64 on employers and employees and the Colorado economy.
The task force will also work to reconcile Colorado and federal laws such that the new laws and regulations do not subject Colorado state and local governments and state and local government employees to prosecution by the federal government.
“Task force members are charged with finding practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementing Amendment 64 while at all times respecting the diverse perspectives that each member will bring to the work of the task force,” the executive order emphasized. “The task force shall respect the will of the voters of Colorado and shall not engage in a debate of the merits of marijuana legalization or Amendment 64.”
Marijuana legalization supporters cheered the issuance of the executive orders.
“This is a truly historic day. From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana. We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately,” said Mason Tvert, one of the two official proponents for Amendment 64 and newly appointed communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We look forward to working with the governor’s office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64,” Tvert continued. “We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow.”
Not everyone was as thrilled as Tvert. Both US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Colorado State Patrol James Wolfinbarger issued statements Monday warning respectively that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that driving while impaired by marijuana is still a crime.
“The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state,” Walsh said in his statement. “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. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10th in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.”
“The Colorado State Patrol would like to remind motorists that if you chose to consume marijuana and make the decision to drive that you are taking a huge risk,” Wolfinbarger said. “Drivers must realize that if you are stopped by law enforcement officials and it is determined that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been affected to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both, you may be arrested and subjected to prosecution under Colorado’s DUI/DUID laws. It is imperative that everyone takes responsibility for public safety when driving on Colorado’s highways.”
While the implementation of regulations for marijuana commerce in Colorado and Washington is by no means assured, the legalization of pot possession in the two states is a done deal. And with it, a huge hole has been blown through the wall of marijuana prohibition. Since the election last month, public opinion polls have shown increasing support — and in three out of four cases, majority support — for marijuana legalization, as well as little patience for federal interference in states that have legalized.
Marijuana prohibition may not be dead yet, but voters in Colorado and Washington have delivered a mortal blow. The clock is ticking.