Colorado’s Amendment 64 Passes but Faces Legal Hurdles

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John Stuthers, Attorney General of Colorado. Credit: Attorney General of Colorado

Despite Federal Law, Amendment 64 Will Be Passed into Colorado Law

Both Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers are against any legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

Yet, the governor said he would respect the will of the voters and sign the amendment into law.

Suthers issued a statement saying legalization is “very bad public policy” but his office will do what it can to implement the changes.

The ‘legal marijuana’ law will not come into effect until next month, after the results of the voting are certified. Even if the governor refused to sign the constitutional amendment, the measures would become law after certification.

Pot Legal in Colorado but Still Illegal in Federal Law

When the changes become law, it will then ostensibly be legal for anyone over 21 years old to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, smoke in private places and cultivate up to six plants, but the retail sale of marijuana will not begin before January 2014. The state needs the time to pass regulations governing the sale of marijuana, and to devise a structure to tax the product.

However, Colorado officials point out that anyone that is producing or using marijuana legally under the state’s law is still liable to be prosecuted under federal law. Stuthers noted that the United States Supreme Court has already ruled marijuana use, production and sale, wholly within a state, can be prosecuted by the federal government as a breach of the Controlled Substances Act.

The governor urged Colorado residents not to “break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is considering launching legal action against Colorado and Washington, the other state that voted in favor of marijuana legalization on Nov. 6. Stuthers is calling on the DOJ to bring the action as soon as possible, prior to the full implantation of the law in early 2014.

Legalized Marijuana in Colorado: What’s Next?

To date, the Department of Justice will only say that marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. Barring legislation by Congress, what is legal in Colorado will remain illegal under federal law. If the federal government does launch a suit against Colorado, it will be interesting to see how strongly the action is defended, given the opposition of state officials to their own law.

Sources:

Amendment 64: The Regulated Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012. Accessed November 8, 2012.

Cornell University Law School, 21 USC, Section 812 – Schedules of Controlled Substances. Accessed November 8, 2012.

The Colorado Springs Business Journal. Amendment 64: The real challenge lies ahead for legalized marijuana(2012). Accessed November 8, 2012.

Silicon Valley Mercury News, Colorado’s Amendment 64 on marijuana: States attorney general says he’ll respect vote(2012). Accessed November 8, 2012.

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