The approval by voters last fall of Amendment 64, one of the most expansive marijuana laws in the world, was only the first step in implementing the constitutional amendment.
The Colorado Legislature was given significant latitude in the just-completed session to put in place a regulatory structure that protects the interests of all Coloradans. However, we are concerned that the final legislation fell short of that goal.
The tight deadline for passing legislation implementing Amendment 64 this year meant that legislators had an incredibly steep learning curve in creating a regulatory structure for an industry that has never been legal before.
Predictably, the marijuana lobby and those making a profit in the pot business were out in full-force at the statehouse and their influence was felt throughout the process.
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.
Smart Colorado advocated for many protections for the public, and a few of these important measures were adopted by the legislature. Successes include:
· A drugged-driving prohibition, one of the more significant measures that passed. It’s disturbing that marijuana advocates opposed even this basic public safety protection.
· Some protections for children, including bans against advertising and marketing to children, restrictions on some types of marijuana edibles, and requirements for childproof packaging.
· Steps 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. While we support these taxes, it remains to be seen whether the marijuana industry will campaign for the passage of these taxes, which are necessary just to ensure that the industry can at least cover its own regulatory costs. Even with approval by voters of these taxes, however, the Amendment 64 campaign’s promises of an influx of new money for state priorities will likely remain a pipe dream.
The legislature fell short in other areas. While Smart Colorado advocated for the strictest regulatory framework, legislators voted for an approach that could open Colorado up to mass commercialization by Big Marijuana next year. Additionally, the legislature failed to enact marijuana potency limits, mandatory statewide caps on production and licenses, a ban on Internet advertising, and educational programs for middle- and high-school students about how marijuana impacts the teen and young adult brain. Smart Colorado also advocated for additional resources for addiction prevention, as well as collection of data on the impact of recreational marijuana on Coloradans.
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. We urge local officials to hold public hearings so that citizens can have a voice in the decision-making process. Local officials should not assume that critical protections have been put in place by the state.
Smart Colorado will remain engaged in the debate, helping people learn more about this issue. We are saddened and concerned that there will be many negative consequences from the mass commercialization of recreational marijuana. Everyday citizens who want to get involved can visit SmartColorado.org to learn more and see how to make their voices heard.
Speak up and insist that your community not compromise public health and safety by putting the interests of the marijuana industry ahead of everyday citizens. Let’s not look back on this time as a missed opportunity to protect our state.
Gina Carbone, Diane Carlson and Henny Lasley are volunteer leaders of Smart Colorado.