When it comes to marijuana in Colorado, bills passed by legislators, mandating this shall do that, are hardly the last word. First, because it's on Gov. John Hickenlooper to actually sign the things; then it's up to the state Department of Revenue to create the specifics.
But those bills are a hell of a place to start, and with the end of the legislative session last week, we've got a slate to review. Four bills related to marijuana were passed by lawmakers in the last days — and thankfully, says Colorado Springs Rep. Mark Waller, one of them addressed driving while stoned.
"Absolutely, with the proliferation of marijuana in the state of Colorado, you know, we need some sort of standard on the books," says the House Minority Leader of House Bill 1325, which creates a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, which can then be argued against in court.
The limit failed in the Legislature multiple times in previous years, and was already rejected once this year. However, last-minute wrangling by an influential supporter raised it from the dead. "[Gov. Hickenlooper] certainly intimated to me that they took a more active role in the passage of the DUI-THC bill — and one that, by the way, I felt like they hadn't taken an active role in prior to us reintroducing it," says Waller. "But the governor did tell me that they worked on its passage."
The proposed law's a setback, says Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council. "You know, it definitely is a danger to patients," she says. "As well, a lot of people have issues with it requiring a blood draw based on suspicion."
The price you pay
Another sticking point for legislators was how much to tax marijuana. Amendment 64 built in a 15 percent excise tax on "marijuana sold or otherwise transferred by a marijuana cultivation facility to a marijuana product manufacturing facility or to a retail marijuana store" — the first $40 million of which would go toward school construction, and a marijuana cash fund after — but a proposed sales tax of 10 percent was not finalized until late. Both are subject to voter approval this November.
"And one of the things I am nervous about is its passage," says Waller of the ballot question created by House Bill 1318. Toward that end, he notes the legislation's crafted in such a way that voters will be asked to approve a 10 percent sales tax, but that the state can instantly increase it to as much as 15 percent. This would be in addition to a current 2.9 percent state tax, as well as any taxes local governments impose.
If passed, 15 percent of the funds collected by the state, under the sales tax, would be distributed to local governments. The rest would go into the cash fund for "the enforcement of regulations on the retail marijuana industry and for the other purposes of the fund as determined by the general assembly," reads the bill's summary.
Garduno sees the financial aspects as a foregone conclusion. "That was something that we always anticipated," she says. "I think [the amount] is a little excessive, but if people want to recreationally smoke or ingest [pot], I guess that's the price that they're gonna have to pay at this point."
Do this, not that
As for the two other bills, here are some other key points.
• Creates licenses for retail-marijuana stores, retail-marijuana cultivation facilities, retail-marijuana products manufacturers, and retail-marijuana testing facilities.
• Removes the word "medical" from the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.
• Sets the retail-marijuana store fee at $500 for current members of the MMJ industry, and at $5,000 for new entrants. Only current MMJ business owners can apply for a license for the first nine months.
• Allows for dispensary owners to either solely sell recreational marijuana, or both medical and recreational.
• Creates extensive labeling requirements, including information related to THC and CBD potency, pesticides used during cultivation, a health-risk warning, solvents used in extractions, possible allergens, and nutritional facts.
• Allows retail stores and product manufacturers, after Sept. 1, 2014, to either grow their own marijuana or buy it from an independent facility.
• Limits out-of-state residents to purchasing a quarter-ounce at a time.
Senate Bill 283:
• Bans the use of flammable gas to extract THC in a residential setting.
• Says that state-level legal contracts related to marijuana are valid.
• "Encourage[s]" the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to create courses on "advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement."
• Adds marijuana to the list of prohibited substances under the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.
New marijuana must knows
• Those suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana may be subject to a blood test that would seek to determine whether or not their blood has 5 nanograms or more of THC per milliliter. However, the accused would be allowed to attempt to prove in court why they actually weren't impaired.
• Coloradans will have the option, in November, to vote on a series of tax increases: an initial 10 percent sales tax, and a 15 percent excise tax. Most of the funds raised will go to the implementation of marijuana regulations and a public-school-construction fund, respectively.
• Out-of-state visitors will be limited to purchasing amounts of a quarter-ounce at a time, as opposed to the whole ounce allowed to Colorado residents.
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