Marijuana: Amendment 64 Task Force backs letting employers fire people for pot use

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Employers would be allowed to fire employees for smoking marijuana off-site under a recommendation endorsed by the Amendment 64 Task Force on Tuesday. Members also voted to support a marijuana DUI bill and to recommend education for juveniles in possession of less than an ounce of pot. But they couldn't agree on whether the regulatory framework for recreational marijuana should be "vertical" or "open."

As shown in the chart below, "vertical integration" means that a marijuana business owner would be licensed to control all aspects of the business, from growing the pot to selling it. This model currently exists for medical marijuana. "Open integration" means that an owner could specialize in one part of the supply chain, such as growing only.

Many already in the pot business want to keep it vertical. "This is not the venue for us to experiment," said Norton Arbelaez, founder of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.

Greenwood Village police chief John Jackson also spoke in favor of replicating the medical model. "Open integration scares me to death," he said. It creates too much opportunity to grow the industry, he explained, which may in turn bolster the black market.

The recommendation rejected by the task force was for a hybrid model that would allow both vertical and open integration. Proponents pointed out that whatever regulatory framework was adopted, it would include "strict inventory control, surveillance requirements and seed-to-sale tracking."

After much discussion and no consensus, task force co-chair Jack Finlaw sent the recommendation back to the Regulatory Framework Working Group for revisions.

Members did agree on several other recommendations. One of the biggest was to keep the status quo when it comes to how employers treat off-site marijuana use -- meaning they could continue to prohibit it. Some members argued that the passage of Amendment 64 changed the status quo; bosses could "restrict" off-the-job pot use but not prohibit it. In the end, a majority voted to support the recommendation below.

Continue for more on the task force's recommendations. The task force also voted to support a recommendation that youth under eighteen years old not be criminalized for a first offense of marijuana possession. Former Denver Manager of Safety Charlie Garcia said that while he doesn't support legalizing marijuana for kids, criminalizing it has "big consequences.

"They end up with a criminal history because of possession of a joint," he said.

Instead of being convicted and possibly winding up in juvenile detention, the punishment for possession of less than an ounce of weed would "be limited to education and treatment as ordered by the juvenile court," the recommendation says. Read it below.

Members also agreed on a recommendation that would allow counties or municipalities to ban recreational marijuana businesses, just as they can with medical marijuana dispensaries. Read the recommendation below. In all, the task force okayed seven recommendations and sent two -- including one about licensing fees -- back to their working groups to be revised. Among the others approved were a recommendation to explore banking options for marijuana businesses and one to allow lawmakers to adopt industrial hemp regulations.

View all of the recommendations on this PowerPoint from Tuesday's task force meeting. It includes a presentation by University of Denver professor and task force member Sam Kamin about how marijuana is regulated by the federal government, and how the feds' laws may or may not impact Colorado in light of Amendment 64.

"We can't make Amendment 64 bulletproof," Kamin told the task force. "If the feds want to shut it down, they will." But he added that having sound regulations -- like those in place for Colorado's medical marijuana industry -- will likely keep the feds at bay.

The task force -- which is charged with finding "practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementing Amendment 64," The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act -- will meet for the last time on Thursday, February 28, at which point it will finalize its recommendations for lawmakers.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: At Legal Chronic Delivery, the weed is free, but the bumper sticker costs $50."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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