Marijuana buying limits advised by A64 task force could send prices sky high, attorney says

We're coming down to the wire on the Amendment 64 task force, whose final meeting is slated for Thursday. But big recommendations have already been put forward, including an okay for pot tourism, albeit with potential limits on purchase amounts for out of staters. Now, though, the task force has suggested buying restrictions on in-state residents, too -- and one longtime marijuana advocate thinks that if the legislature signs on to the idea, prices will go up. A lot.

The recommendations that emerged from yesterday's task-force meeting included requiring child-proof packaging; nixing logos that might appeal to kids; mandating potency labeling; forbidding the addition to weed of addictive ingredients like nicotine; restricting shops from selling products beyond cannabis and items directly related to it (like pipes and papers); and disallowing advertising in venues accessible to children, including TV, radio and what the Denver Post describes as "general-distribution newspapers."

No doubt the folks on the sales side of the Westword offices took notice of this last item, which would seem to contradict current rules allowing medical marijuana ads in publications like this one. Could banning ads for recreational pot precipitate a change in policy regarding MMJ? An interested question, and one that may not be answered until May, when Amendment 64-related legislation is expected to be passed, or perhaps even afterward.

Still, the piece of advice that stuck out the most for attorney Warren Edson, a specialist in marijuana law in addition to being a veteran activist for pot policy reform, was the possibility of limiting how much marijuana in-state residents can buy at any given time, rather than allowing them to purchase the one ounce authorized by A64 for adults 21 and over. An amount wasn't specified, but the most common figure floated has been a quarter-ounce.

Edson's reaction to that?

"As you can imagine, my head kind of exploded" upon hearing this suggestion, "as did my Facebook page," he says. "Last night, I couldn't help mentioning how we were told we could possess an ounce at a time and it was going to be regulated like alcohol -- and how can quarter-ounce limits be regulating it like alcohol?"

To this question, Edson received often surprising answers -- some of them from marijuana-reform advocates he thought would be similarly frustrated by the recommendation.

Continue for more about potential marijuana purchase limits. "Some of the comments and quotes compared a quarter-ounce of marijuana to a keg of beer," Edson says. "And to see that is just insane and disingenuous, and it shocks me that it came from people on my side of the fence -- meaning from supporters of marijuana and medical marijuana, allegedly."

Why is this comparison so off-base?

"There are 1,920 ounces in an average keg of beer, which is the equivalent of 160 cans of beer," Edson points out. "Put 160 cans of beer on one side of a table and put a quarter-bag of weed on the other and you can see how crazy that is."

Another way of demonstrating the disparity: Invite someone to drink 160 cans of beer as another person consumes the quarter ounce, then wait to see which of them winds up in a hospital.

Beyond this argument, however, Edson says "I'm concerned the industry is trying to recreate Amsterdam, where you can only buy one or two grams at a time, and they cost $10 to $25 a gram."

Limits would translate to price hikes? No doubt about it, Edson believes. "There are some people in the industry who'd like to see prices go back up. Right now, our prices in Colorado are half as much as the rest of the country, practically, including Oregon and California. But if you cap purchases at a quarter, there would be no more bulk-purchase discounts or deals, and we'd be getting close to the kinds of prices you find in Amsterdam."

To Edson, the task force's recommendation suggests that "there's not a lot of consumer representation in this process. Can you imagine if, all of a sudden, there was a demand that you cap your alcohol purchases at a six pack of beer? That, to me, is a lot closer than the keg argument. And yet that's what they want us to do."

Of course, the legislature doesn't have to impose a purchase limit, but given the short time frame lawmakers have to operate, most observers expect the majority of the task force's recommendations will be accepted. And that, in Edson's view, would be a bad thing in this case.

"Options are good, and competition is good," he maintains, adding, "I'm still having trouble absorbing the idea that the good guys who were fighting these battles are talking in the same kind of language that before they would have mocked."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana tourism isn't main reason to let out-of-staters buy pot, says task force member."

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