Colorado Weed Laws: One Toke Forward, Two Tokes Back?

Voters elected to legalize weed in Colorado and Washington, but some state legislators and the federal government may harsh that mellow.

Colorado weed laws may be a temptating target, but a federal law-enforcement crackdown is far from certain. (Photo: Nick Adams/Reuters)

May 9, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

With every high comes a crash, and marijuana legalization advocates have had one of the more up-and-down weeks in recent memory.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in Colorado finally approved a plan to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana in their state.

Because every new tax increase must be approved by voters, weed smokers will be required to wait until November, if not longer, to buy pot over the counter. November is when voters will decide whether or not they think the state’s proposed 15 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on marijuana is acceptable.

The deal was a huge departure from one that was nearly passed only 24 hours earlier—when members of Colorado’s state senate attempted to undermine the state’s voter-enacted marijuana legalization law, Amendment 64, by way of a bit of trickery.

While negotiating the marijuana taxation bill, anti-weed legislators attempted to attach a rider to the tax plan that would have voided Amendment 64 if voters failed to approve the proposed taxes in November.

That rider failed—but the mere fact that an anti-64 amendment got so far raises the question: Is a crackdown against Colorado’s liberalized marijuana laws on the way?

“The voters made it abundantly clear that they want to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the past and adopt a more sensible approach.”

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, doesn’t think so. At least not in any form that seriously challenges the law.

“The proposed repeal measure [against Amendment 64] was clearly unconstitutional, and we were surprised it received as much consideration by lawmakers as it did,” Tvert tells TakePart. “The voters made it abundantly clear that they want to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the past and adopt a more sensible approach. If those who cannot simply move on wish to repeal Amendment 64, they will need to convince a majority of voters that it is the right thing to do. I am confident they would have a very difficult time doing that.”

On a state level Tvert’s confidence may be justified; but what about the federal government?

President Obama has stated he intends to reform America’s harsh drug policy—but he’s been mum on the specifics. On a recent trip to Mexico, the president appeared to tip his hand about his intentions: “I’ve been asked, and I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer.”

Obama’s disbelief is not exactly a heartening sentiment for anyone opposing weed prohibition, considering the federal government is still weighing its response to voter-approved legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington states.

Tvert downplayed any notion that Obama’s quote signified a coming crackdown against state-regulated marijuana sales.

“Obama’s comments are not surprising and rather general in nature,” says Tvert. “The federal government has largely respected Colorado’s state-regulated medical marijuana system, which entails hundreds of storefront marijuana businesses across the state, for the past few years.”

Tvert says federal law enforcement is mainly concerned with interstate and international trafficking—as well as the safety of children.

“To that end, they have pursued cases in which they believed medical marijuana was being diverted out of state, and they sent letters to 57 medical marijuana businesses informing them they were within 1,000 feet of a school and needed to relocate or shut down.”

If the government wanted to escalate its opposition, it easily could.

“Thus far, the Department of Justice has demonstrated that it is thoughtfully considering the measures adopted by voters in Colorado and Washington and keeping lines of communication open with state officials,” says Tvert.

Still, the Obama administration’s ultimate response to legalized marijuana remains anyone’s guess.

“We remain hopeful that a system will emerge in which the will of the voters in Colorado and Washington is respected without frustrating legitimate federal interests,” says Tvert.

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