On our state legislature

On our state legislature

Amendment 64 is the most expansive marijuana law in the world. Its approval by voters last fall was only the first step in the process of implementing the constitutional amendment. The Colorado Legislature was given significant latitude to put in place a regulatory structure that protects the best interests of all Coloradans.

Smart Colorado was formed in early March as a statewide coalition of concerned citizens to ensure that Amendment 64’s implementation does not compromise public health and safety, the taxpayers’ interests, and our state and children’s future. Unlike the marijuana industry, we have no financial motive. Our only concern remains the best interests of the state.

The tight deadline that required passing legislation implementing Amendment 64 during this session meant that legislators had an incredibly steep learning curve in creating a whole new regulatory structure for an industry that didn’t exist before. Meanwhile, the marijuana lobby and those making a profit in the pot business were out in full-force at the statehouse.

The legislature made important strides, but it fell short of implementing necessary protections in many others.

Among the successes, legislators:

  • Passed drugged-driving prohibitions. We were amazed that some marijuana advocates opposed even this basic public-safety protection.
  • Enacted some protections for children, including childproof packaging and bans against marketing to children.
  • Took a step towards basic consumer protections, with requirements for testing and labeling of marijuana products.

The legislature also passed a tax structure that, if approved by voters this fall, will at least help defray the cost of regulating the expanded marijuana industry in Colorado. While we support these taxes, it remains to be seen whether the marijuana industry will actively campaign for the passage of these taxes, which are necessary just to ensure the industry can at least cover its own regulatory costs rather than be a drain on the state budget. Even with approval by voters of these taxes, the Amendment 64 campaign’s promises of an influx of new money for state priorities will likely remain a pipe dream.

Unfortunately, the legislature fell short in other areas. While Smart Colorado advocated for the strictest regulatory framework, legislators ended up voting for an approach that could open Colorado up to mass commercialization by Big Marijuana as early as next year. Additionally, marijuana potency limits, specific production caps, and important educational programs for middle and high-school students about how marijuana impacts the teen and young adult brain were omitted from the final legislation.

As the legislature’s work ends, the focus now turns to state regulators and Colorado’s cities and counties. Local governments have significant discretion to implement Amendment 64 in a way that represents the views of their citizens, including prohibiting recreational marijuana stores in their neighborhoods. We urge local elected officials to hold public hearings so citizens can have a voice in the decision-making process on this critical public policy issue. Local officials should not assume that many critical protections have been put in place by the state, as much will be left up to the rule-making process and local governments.

Smart Colorado intends to remain engaged in the debate, serving as a clearinghouse of information. Everyday citizens who want to get involved can visit SmartColorado.org to learn more and see how to make their voices heard. As the legislative session demonstrated, it’s important that the best interests of all citizens, and especially children, are considered in this ongoing policy debate. Let’s not look back on this time as a missed opportunity to protect the state.

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Smart Colorado (www.smartcolorado.org) is a non-profit organization that supports laws and policies to limit the negative consequences of implementing Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older in Colorado. Smart Colorado seeks to ensure Amendment 64′s implementation does not compromise public health and safety and taxpayers’ interests.

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