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Can state and feds find common ground on legal marijuana?

Is Colorado headed for a cannabis clash with the feds? Bob Berwyn photo.

Passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado sets up potential showdown

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —Even in the face of federal uncertainty, local officials say Colorado’s effective — if somewhat cumbersome — regulation of medical marijuana can serve as a guide for controlling the cultivation and retailing of marijuana for personal use, legalized by state voters in last week’s election.

Amendment 64 legalizes the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as soon as the election results are certified by Gov. John Hickenlooper, at the latest by Dec. 6. Possession and cultivation of up to six plants will also be legal.

The constitutional amendment also directs the state to develop a set of rules to regulate the commercial sale of marijuana but leaves room for local governments to restrict those sales.

“Medical marijuana was a game-changer. We do have a lesson from the recent past,” said Bruce Brown, newly elected District Attorney for Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District.

Brown said he thinks that a statewide system of regulating personal-use marijuana can be developed — even if the federal government doesn’t offer clear guidance. Colorado’s medical marijuana industry has been operating in somewhat of a gray area between state and federal law, under which marijuana remains listed as an illegal narcotic.

“If we use history as a guide, this tension is going to continue, but they’re not going to devote a lot of resources on small-scale enforecemnt,” Brown said, explaining that the federal government has been focusing on massive grow operations, for example in California.

Brown said that one likely consequence of the amendment will be a new legislative push to establish a quantitative cannabis nanogram limit for drivers.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and State Attorney General John Suther last week spoke with U.S. District Attorney Eric Holder about the marijuana issue.

“Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers talked to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder by phone today (Friday, Nov. 9),” said Eric Brown, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “They emphasized the need for the federal government to articulate what its position will be related to Amendment 64. Everyone shared a sense of urgency and agreed to continue talking about the issue,” Brown said.

On another front, the Denver Post and the Colorado Independent both reported that Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation are working on legislation that would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act, enabling states to develop their own marijuana regulations.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette, along with congressmen Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter are working on the bill together and will try to get support from lawmakers in other states, perhaps building a coalition among elected lawmakers with liberal positions on social issues, and others who are interested in state rights.

Polis introduced a similar measure in 2011 aimed at protecting Colorado’s medical marijuana industry, but that bill didn’t find much political traction.

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