Amendment 64: Should retail marijuana shops be limited to Colorado residents?

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Once retail shops for recreational marijuana can open their doors in Colorado, who will actually be allowed to use them? This was one of the questions raised at a meeting yesterday of the Amendment 64 task force charged with making recommendations on implementing the new law. We'll likely see more debate over the next month on the question of whether retail pot shops should be limited to in-state residents.

These were the very preliminary debates that came up yesterday at the first meeting of the so-called "regulatory framework working group," -- a sub-committee of Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, which he formed when he officially signed the measure into law last month.

The group, which held its first full meeting a few weeks ago, will make recommendations on everything from local control to consumer-safety issues to tax and funding policy. Its members have until the end of February to debate and present concrete policy suggestions on how the state can move forward with implementing legalization.

Representative Dan Pabon, who is co-chairing the regulatory framework group, tells Latest World that one of the questions raised focused on what kind of requirements the state should have on those who can buy pot at retail joints.

"No decisions were made, of course, but the question is whether or not allowing non-Colorado residents to access the industry was going to basically cause the feds to step in," says Pabon, "because then this...[is] interstate commerce...and therefore crossing state boundaries."

As we've noted, A64 is set up such that lawmakers have to create the framework for retail establishments, meaning they would likely not be able to open their doors until 2014 at the earliest. This, however, has not stopped some local municipalities from passing ordinances in advance to ban commercial pot.

And the uncertainty of potential enforcement from the federal government, which maintains that marijuana is illegal, seems to be looming over some of the debates at the task force.

Pabon says he is still deciding what his recommendation will be regarding residency requirements.

"I haven't made up my mind on what the best public policy is," he says.

Continue for more on the task force meeting yesterday.

Mark Couch, a spokesman with the state's Department of Revenue who is now acting as a spokesman for the task force, says that the regulatory group briefly discussed residency requirements relating to both customers of the shops as well as those who will be operating them.

"They raised it as a question," he says. "It's something they want to discuss."

Pabon explains that his group is looking at the regulatory frameworks that exist for medical marijuana, gaming and liquor as potential models for setting up recreational marijuana.

One of the other major debates that emerged, he says, is around vertical integration -- whether these establishments should be allowed to both manufacture and sell their product. It's a complicated question, he says, because in the alcohol industry, vertical integration is not allowed -- i.e. Coors has a factory, but can't have a Coors liquor store -- and in the medical marijuana industry, this kind of integration is essentially required.

"This is the time to overview our other industries and what works and what doesn't," he says.

Many in his group, like him, are still working through these issues, he says. "I don't know if anyone came in with their minds made up."

Concerns around the contradictions of federal and state law are a part of the discussion at the regulatory group, he says. Specifics on federal enforcement, he says, "would certainly be a factor in whether or not we would adopt or fully consider a residency requirement."

In general, he says, there's a lot to be debated in a short amount of time -- but it's an important step for the state.

"It's exciting," he says. "This is a new frontier in Colorado. Hhaving the ability to set a foundation that protects the public safety and our children, but at the same time fulfills the intent of the voters, is something you don't get to do very often."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana bust: Ohio students headed to Aspen arrested for possession"

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

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