Amendment 64's Brian Vicente on how act might be challenged, why he doubts it will be

The passage of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, was a big win for attorney Brian Vicente, one of the measure's main proponents.

But amid questions about when and how the proposal will take effect come suggestions that court challenges are inevitable. Vicente disagrees and explains why below.

Vicente characterizes the amendment's approval, by a roughly 53-47 percent margin, as "a very meaningful victory for the people of Colorado. They've taken a positive step forward in establishing a smart marijuana policy in the state. They really recognize that marijuana prohibition has failed. I think people of the state are leaders" for that reason.

Nonetheless, media outlets such as National Public Radio have hinted that a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely, since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. Vicente doesn't dismiss this prospect, but neither does he regard it as an example of metaphysical certitude.

"There really is no challenge that could occur to the state criminal-law changes that were made" on election night, he allows. "Basically, a state has a right to set their marijuana penalties at any rate they choose, and Colorado has chosen to allow adults 21 and over to possess and grow small amounts privately. So the federal government can't touch that."

Other provisions aren't totally bulletproof, though, as he concedes.

"It is possible the feds could use their scarce resources to try to overturn the will of the voters in terms of Colorado's desire to have state-regulated stores, where marijuana is taxed and strictly controlled like alcohol," he notes. "And if that day comes, we'll be ready to fight to validate the will of the voters -- and we hope our state officials will join us in that battle."

One of the most unlikely pot champions in Colorado government -- Attorney General John Suthers, arguably the most vocal critic of marijuana-policy liberalization among major state officials -- has already confirmed he will do so, despite his personal views. And that makes sense to Vicente. "It's my belief that he would be required to work on behalf of Colorado voters, and on behalf of making this law meaningful, by defending it against federal challenges," he says.

Should the feds decide to take on the retail operations, "they could push for some kind of injunction to prevent any rule-making and regulation-writing from taking place," Vicente concedes. "But while it's possible, I don't think it's likely. I would point to the fact that there are now eighteen states with medical marijuana" -- Massachusetts voters added their home to the list this week. "And there are places like Colorado with hundreds of storefronts currently selling medical marijuana, and the federal government hasn't acted to shut down those stores via a court challenge."

Continue for more of our interview with Brian Vicente about Amendment 64.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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