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Marijuana Legalization: Colo. Gov. Hickenlooper Signs First Bills In History To Establish A Legal, Regulated Pot Market For Adults

05/28/2013 01:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2013

On Tuesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several historic measures to implement marijuana legalization in the state, establishing Colorado as the world's first legal, regulated and taxed marijuana market for adults.

Hickenlooper, a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization who said that "Colorado is known for many great things, marijuana should not be one of them," signed the first bills in history to establish a legal marijuana market as well as starting the development of a regulatory framework for the cultivation, distribution, and processing of industrial hemp.

"Recreational marijuana really is new territory," Hickenlooper said at Tuesday's signing. And although the governor has expressed opposition to marijuana legalization in the past, he called today's pot bills "common sense," the AP's Kristen Wyatt reported.

Jack Finlaw, Hickenlooper's chief legal counsel, said although they were opposed to marijuana legalization, "the will of the voters needed to be implemented."

"We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for the initiative he has taken to ensure the world's first legal marijuana market for adults will entail a robust and comprehensive regulatory system" said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent of Amendment 64 and co-director of the campaign in Colorado. "This marks another major milestone in the process of making the much-needed transition from a failed policy of marijuana prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation."

Tvert added: "Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to adopt a marijuana policy that reflects the public's increasing support for making marijuana legal for adults. Marijuana prohibition is on its way out in Colorado, and it is only a matter of time before many more states follow its lead."

House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 283, set up the regulatory framework for Colorado dictating how recreational marijuana should be grown, packaged and sold.

Colorado adults, 21 and over, will be limited to purchasing up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use from specialty licensed retail shops that can also sell pot-related items such as pipes and accessories. Coloradans can also grow up to six plants -- with only three flowering at a given time -- in their home for personal use. Adults can possess up to an ounce of marijuana legally.

HB-1317 and SB-283 requires that retailers properly label all marijuana products including warning labels, serving size and information on THC potency. Only Colorado residents can own or invest in the stores, KDVR reports, and when the first stores open around Jan. 1, 2014, for the first nine months, only existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be able apply for the recreational sales license.

According to The Denver Post, the first recreational marijuana stores to open would only be able to sell the marijuana that they have grown themselves, but come October 2014, that restriction would be lifted so stand-alone growers and retailers could open up for business.

HB-1317 also bans cities from opening pot shops and bans marijuana collectives that could skirt the new marijuana regulatory laws by growing and providing pot to members tax-free and below cost.

The bill also requires stores to treat marijuana magazines like pornography by placing them behind the counter.

House Bill 1318, outlines the taxes related to the legal marijuana market, proposing a 15 percent excise tax and 10 percent sales tax. However, due to Colorado's Taxpayers' Bill of Rights which requires that Coloradans vote on any tax increase, state voters will still need to weigh in on the tax question in the 2014 election.

Amendment 64 states that the first $40 million raised from the 15 percent excise tax would go to to school construction. And although many voters who supported A64 did so because it could raise money for schools, lawmakers are concerned that even fans of that excise tax rate and the use of its revenue could be turned off by a total tax rate of 25 percent, not including additional state and local taxes that could lead to marijuana taxes exceeding 30 percent in some areas.

The AP's Kristen Wyatt reported that some state lawmakers, fear that voters will reject one or both of the tax proposals leaving the state stuck with the tab for enforcing pot sales but without the budget to pay for it.

And although Coloradans are known to reject increased taxes when it comes to even popular state services -- take K-12 education improvement, for example -- when it comes to legal marijuana, state voters appear to be ready to buck that trend.

According to a recent survey from Public Policy Polling, 77 percent of Colorado voters support the 15 percent excise tax -- which Amendment 64 calls for and which is earmarked for public school construction -- as well as an additional 10 percent sales tax to cover the cost of regulating recreational marijuana sales. Only 18 percent of those surveyed were opposed to increased taxes on legal pot sales. The survey of 900 registered Colorado voters was conducted by Public Policy Polling from April 15-16.

In a statement, Amendment 64 backers said that state officials have told them that the cost to the state to enforce recreational marijuana regulations would not be greater than $30 million and said that the proposed 25 percent in taxes would still likely yield more than $60 million.

Hickenlooper has expressed support for the tax measure. "I'll certainly promote the marijuana question," Hickenlooper said to The Denver Post. "We need to make sure we have the resources to have a good regulatory framework to manage this."

Senate Bill 24 proposes the development of a regulatory framework for the commercial cultivation, processing, and distribution of industrial hemp.

House Bill 1325, a controversial measure which sets a THC-blood limit for Colorado motorists at 5 nanograms.

Under HB 1325, drivers caught with 5 nanograms of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana which produces the "high" sensation, in their blood would be considered too stoned to drive and could be ticketed similarly to a person who was considered too drunk to drive.

As in previous years when marijuana DUI bills have come up for debate, opponents say that the 5 nanogram standard is too low for frequent pot smokers, especially medical marijuana patients, who regularly have this level of THC in the bloodstream and therefore, if passed, these people would lose their driving privileges, The Denver Post reports.

But HB-1325 allows for a person who has been charged with having 5 nanograms of THC in their blood to rebut the charge that they are too impaired to drive.

"For example, if you did not exhibit poor driving, you can put that on as evidence to say, 'Look my driving was not poor, I'm not unsafe to operate a motor vehicle,'" Rep. Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) said during earlier hearings of an identical bill which was killed.

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