Amendment 64: Business organizations ask feds to clamp down on Colorado marijuana measure

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In the wake of the Amendment 64's passage, Democratic and Republican officials have proposed a bill that would exempt Colorado from federal laws prohibiting marijuana use. Now, a coalition of business organizations opposed to A64 are urging the feds to do the opposite: enforce federal law, even if it contradicts the policy supported by a majority of Colorado voters.

Since the success of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act -- which will amend the state constitution to allow adults 21 and over to possess an ounce or less of marijuana -- those who opposed the measure have had a wide range of responses. Some have expressed concerns about how legalization will affect drug-testing at companies while GOP officials, worried about a rise in underage smoking and harms to the economy, have said they are hopeful local municipalities will be able to regulate marijuana to curb the potentially negative impacts.

Supporters and opponents alike have turned to the federal government, asking for clarity on how it will resolve the contradictions that now exist between state and federal law.

Now, a coalition of business groups opposed to legalization is not only asking for clarification, but is urging the federal government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, which maintains that smoking marijuana is against the law.

The coalition is made up of twenty business organizations across the state, mainly chambers of commerce and economic development corporations. This group has put its message into letters, all on full view below, to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, as well as Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers, asking them for their support.

The letter to Holder says, in part:

The Colorado business community, as represented by the signatory organizations noted below, seeks clarity from the Department of Justice with regard to your intentions to enforce federal law under your prosecutorial discretion.

The provisions of Amendment 64 are in direct conflict with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and other provisions of federal law. The CSA clearly states that federal law preempts state law when there is a positive conflict between the two juridictions....

Consequently, we encourage the enforcement of the CSA, to provide the certainty and clarity of law we seek.

Continue for our interview with the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, one of the supporting groups. The arguments from this group are noteworthy because, unlike some of the criticisms and concerns around the policy in the weeks since its passage, this call to the federal government directly asks for agencies to supersede the change to law that voters approved on election day.

In the plea to Holder, the coalition notes that in 2010, his office took a "firm and aggressive position opposing California's Proposition 19," a cannabis measure with similarities to A64. In that letter, also included below, Holder wrote that the Department of Justice remained committed to enforcing federal laws against marijuana use regardless of the passage of this or similar measures. Specifically, the letter noted that the department would "vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organisations that possess, manufacture, or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law."

The reason why the current uncertainty around enforcement is hurtful to businesses, the letter argues, is the potential for conflicts once the law officially goes into effect with employees of companies then legally possessing and consuming marijuana.

The letter asks the DOJ for clarity by the end of the year.

Sandra Hagen Solin, who heads the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the public policy arm of several chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, says federal enforcement seems like the best way to clarify discrepancies.

"We understand the will of the voters. Despite the will of the voters, business is still left with uncertainty," she says. "But we're also left with increased costs for business."

Solin says she expects that insurance rates and workers' compensation costs will rise if A64 is implemented and the feds decide to stay out of the way.

"There's just a host of concerns beyond our own liability," she says. "Federal law makes it very clear that the use of marijuana is illegal, and we believe that makes it very clear that consequently, we won't have impaired individuals and employees coming to work sites. That provides us some assurance that our employees will be productive and be clear of mind."

She adds, "The business community respects what the voters have done.... We ask that they respect how business has to work within the confines of Amendment 64.... It's a two-way street."

Whatever happens, she says, the coalition will seek solutions to the problems they foresee -- whether the federal government chooses enforcement or not.

"We recognize that the voters have spoken...and that there's a strong possibility that the feds won't enforce the law," she says, adding, "There's just so much gray.... We have to work through each one of these questions to determine what our appropriate answer should be."

Continue for the full letters, including lists of all the supporting organizations. Letter to the Department of Justice: Department of Justice Letter

Letter to President Barack Obama: Letter to President Barack Obama

Letter to John Hickenlooper and John Suthers: Letter to John Hickenlooper and John Suthers

Eric Holder letter about California Proposition 19 from 2010: Eric Holder Letter

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Boulder mulls pot shop moratorium until 2014 in wake of Amendment 64."

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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