Amendment 64: Marijuana task force meets for the first time, plots "aggressive timeline"

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When Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado's pot measure into law last week, he announced the creation of a task force dedicated to resolving the long list of unanswered questions about legalization. In its first meeting yesterday afternoon, the group debated the best path to consensus -- a process sure to be contentious, given the task force's eclectic mix of government officials, 64 supporters and others who vocally opposed the measure.

Since a majority of Coloradans voted in favor of legalizing pot , everyone's been looking to the federal government for some clarity on whether it will crack down on Colorado or give the state an exemption.

Some business groups upset with the vote have said they hope the feds actually do enforce federal law against the state and the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana for adults.

These debates, however, aren't for the Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64, which, as the official name suggests, exists with the sole goal of figuring out how to implement the new law. The 24-member entity, created by an executive order of the governor, is aiming to give official recommendations by the end of February.

"We're not here to revisit the merits of Amendment 64. We're not here to have a discussion on whether or not legalizing marijuana in general or legalizing marijuana in the way Amendment 64 has done is the right thing to do," Jack Finlaw, the governor's chief legal counsel and a co-chair of the task force, said at the start of yesterday's meeting. "The voters approved it. So our job is to find ways to efficiently and effectively implement it."

Co-chair Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, chimed in early. "There will be issues around what the legal framework should be, what the regulatory framework should be," she said. "How do we make sure we are protecting the people that we need to protect? How do we ensure that consumers are protected and how do we make sure [marijuana use] does not take place for those that are under 21?"

She added, "The task force shall respect the will of the voters.... We just need to move forward on developing the best implementation plan."

More than a hundred people crowded into a conference room in Golden to watch the 24 members of the task force work their way through a generally uneventful meeting, focused mostly on identifying what the central questions are and how, logistically, they can best divide the work to tackle the problem in two months.

"From my own perspective, I think this is a very aggressive timeline," Finlaw said, noting that the legislature will begin its session in early January and Amendment 64 sets a deadline of July 2013 for the establishment of a regulatory framework.

The group split the issues into five categories to be tackled by smaller working groups: regulatory framework; local authority and control; tax/funding and civil law issues; consumer safety/ social issues; and criminal law issues. All of this is outlined in the presentation, full version on view below.

While much of the discussion about what issues should fall under which working group seemed of little interest to those crowded in the audience -- a handful standing or sitting on the ground because there weren't enough chairs -- there were a few debates that sparked some intrigue.

For example, the group discussed ways in which cities and counties will have the authority to regulate and create their own laws around marijuana, a debate similar to the one that has played out with local authority over medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Finlaw noted that the paperwork related to medical marijuana would not be the same for recreational marijuana -- an industry that would in theory not maintain some sort of list of users.

Continue for more from the public meeting and the full report from the task force.

While concerns about the federal government's potential crackdown loomed over some of the conversation, Christian Sederberg, the A64 representative on the task force, asked that members "not allow that to be used as a scare tactic to limit our work here."

Christian Thurstone, who is on the task force because of his "expertise in the treatment of marijuana addiction," raised a number of concerns about the potential negative impacts of legalization, including "second- and third-hand exposure," pot parties where children might have access and the potential for advertising that targets youth. Thurstone also urged for warning labels against the dangers of smoking while pregnant.

In response to many of his comments, Sederberg reminded the group that there are regulations in place for alcohol that have addressed these questions, and could be mirrored in 64's implementation.

During the general comment period at the end, members of the public in attendance brought up a wide range of topics, from DUI laws related to pot, to the impacts 64 could have on medical-marijuana users to the importance of protecting state's rights.

"I was very disappointed when I saw the makeup of this task force and realized there was not a single person here representing the interests of medical-marijuana patients," said Teri Robnett, a 54-year-old patient herself. "There is someone representing the industry...but I am not the industry. I am a patient."

"Right!" someone else shouted.

"Please keep us in mind. Don't throw the rights of medical-marijuana patients under the bus, because you're scared to death of recreational users," she said, to loud applause.

"You go girl!" another member of the crowd responded.

One man who used to own a dispensary said he was frustrated with intense regulations of medical marijuana.

"I would just say, just don't overreact, please!" he said, to loud applause.

Another commenter said he was worried that law-enforcement agencies in other states might target Coloradans because they are aware of 64. He asked the task force to come up with ways to protect them, saying he was concerned that cops might stop those with Colorado license plates, just because of legalization.

"We've become the marijuana state," he said, "Even though John Hickenlooper didn't want us to."

Continue for the full report from yesterday's meeting.

Here's the full presentation and report from the first meeting. Amendment 64 121712 Taskforce

"More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana rescheduling not Amendment 64 "silver bullet," says Mason Tvert"

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

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