Colorado voters legalize marijuana

MPP rmppeports on the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

On November 6, 2012, the voters of Colorado approved Amendment 64. Passage of this amendment to the Colorado Constitution repeals the state prohibition of marijuana and replaces it with a system of taxation and regulation. Although marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, 99% of all marijuana arrests are made by state or local authorities, so change in state law will protect the vast majority of Colorado adults who choose to use marijuana.

In a nutshell, what does this amendment do? The amendment makes the personal use, possession, and limited home growing of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older. It establishes a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. The amendment will set up a system of marijuana distribution comprised of cultivators, product manufacturers (such as for marijuana-infused baked goods), and retail establishments. It also allows for the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.When does the new law take effect? The law will take effect once Gov. Hickenlooper certifies the election results or by January 6, 2013, whichever comes first.

How much marijuana does the new law allow adults to possess under state law? Amendment 64 allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.

Does it allow adults to grow marijuana? Yes.For an adult 21 and older, Amendment 64 removes all state legal penalties for the home growing of up to six marijuana plants (only three of which may be mature) in an enclosed, locked space. Adults 21 and older are also allowed to give away their marijuana (including marijuana they grew) to other adults who are 21 and older. The law does not allow adults to receive any money in exchange for the marijuana grown at home.

Does it allow adults to smoke marijuana in public? No.While the law removes penalties for private adult consumption, it does not allow for the public consumption of marijuana.

When will retail stores begin selling marijuana? Retailers should be approved for operation by the end of 2013.The Department of Revenue has until July 1, 2013 to adopt regulations necessary to implement the regulated marijuana market. It must begin accepting and processing applications for marijuana establishments by October 1, 2013. The department then has 90 days after receiving an application to act on it. If by October 1, 2013, the Department of Revenue fails to adopt regulations, an application can be submitted directly to the locality where the marijuana establishment wishes to do business that can then issue their own annual license to the applicant. Localities have until October 1, 2013 to enact an ordinance specifying what local entity is responsible for processing marijuana establishment applications.

Can cities and counties ban marijuana retailers?Yes. Localities may prohibit the operation of marijuana establishments via an ordinance or a question on a general election ballot.

What will the tax rate on marijuana be? The legislature will set an excise tax rate on commercial marijuana. The excise tax cannot exceed 15 percent.  

Does this new law affect Colorado’s medical marijuana program? No.The initiative does not change existing medical marijuana laws for patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana businesses. Medical marijuana will be exempt from the excise tax placed on non-medical marijuana.

Does the new law make any changes to driving under the influence of marijuana laws? No. It continues to be illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana. The legislature retains the ability to develop new driving-related policies as it sees fit.

Can the General Assembly change this law? No. Amendment 64 is constitutional and the General Assembly cannot repeal voters’ amendments to the state constitution. (With a two-thirds vote, the General Assembly could ask voters whether to change or repeal the amendment, though.) However, the amendment does require the General Assembly to enact the excise tax discussed above and requires the General Assembly to enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp by July 1, 2014.


Much of the information above was sourced from The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the official campaign created to support passage of Amendment 64. The above represents a summary and should not be construed as legal advice.


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