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November 9, 2012
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Summit County considers impacts of Amendment 64

In the legal confusion following the historic vote approving Amendment 64 - a measure permitting adults older than 21 to possess limited amounts of marijuana in Colorado - what's clear is that the drug didn't become legal Tuesday night.

But big changes to both state and local laws are likely on the way, experts say.

"We're going to have a good dialogue next year," local marijuana attorney and advocate Sean McAllister said.

In the meantime, recreational users will have to wait until the election is certified before they are in the clear to possess, grow and consume marijuana under state law.

The process of election certification - which finalizes the voter counts and results - likely won't be completed before Dec. 6.

Until then, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert intends to maintain the status quo in terms of prosecuting marijuana-related offenses.

"I don't see much changing for a while," he said. "Certainly as far as our enforcement goes, we're going to continue to prosecute the way we always have, at least until everything is settled."

Some local law enforcement officials are taking a slightly less restrictive stance, however.

"It was never a priority for us, really, unless you brought attention to yourself" Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. "It's still, as far as we know, on the books ... but it's not going to be a huge priority for us and it hasn't been for some time."

Amendment 64 made it legal for adults older than 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to grow as many as six plants in their homes. But driving while under the influence of marijuana remains illegal and smoking or otherwise using the drug in public will not be allowed.

Individuals growing marijuana in their homes will be permitted to have the results of their harvests, which could exceed an ounce, in their homes or on their property. In public, people will only be able to legally have 1 ounce on their person or in their cars.

It's still unclear how the federal government will react to Colorado's new legalization laws, as marijuana remains illegal nationally, but McAllister said it's unlikely any action would be directed against individual users.

"The federal government will not be prosecuting individual marijuana users," McAllister said. "I would bet my law license on that."

Still, state officials are warning Coloradans to proceed cautiously.

"The voters have spoken and we will have to respect their will," Gov. John Hickenlooper stated following Amendment 64's approval Tuesday night. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

There will not be any kind of registry for marijuana users or purchasers, either, McAllister said.

But it will be 2014 before recreational marijuana will be available for purchase commercially. Amendment 64 gives state lawmakers and local governments a year to react to the new law. The legislature will need to develop regulations for the sale of industrial hemp, the licensure of marijuana businesses and the formulation of a ballot question asking voters to approve an excise tax on the product. Local governments have the option to ban marijuana use.

Some experts expect the legalization measure to effectively kill the medical marijuana industry now well established in Colorado, as dispensary owners will likely convert to a recreational sales model, taking advantage of the opportunity to multiply their customer base five-fold.

But local medical marijuana center owners say they're happy with the success of Amendment 64, even if it leaves the future somewhat uncertain.

"We're very excited," said Caitlin McGuire, owner of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club. "At the moment, there's really not a whole lot to do besides wait and see what kind of reactions we get ... but we would definitely like to explore other options once it becomes available to us."


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 9, 2012 04:46PM Published Nov 9, 2012 01:54AM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.