Marijuana: Initiative 70 would make pot use a right, regulate it like tobacco

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Last Friday, the Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education began collecting signatures for Initiative 70, the third legalization measure to be proposed for the November elections. We caught up with spokesman Rico Colibri, who broke down his proposal and why he feels it is Colorado's best option for ending cannabis prohibition in 2012.

Initiative 70 is definitely not a clone of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol plan, which has already been approved for the November ballot. The measure would make consumption, possession and limited personal cultivation a constitutional right in Colorado -- legal for anyone 21 and up -- and would allow commercial cannabis sales, regulated similarly to existing tobacco sales. In addition, the proposal would remove any of the current laws and penalties associated with cannabis use, distribution and cultivation. And it would also pave the way for industrial hemp in Colorado by demanding agricultural regulations from the Department of Agriculture.

For Colibri, the key attribute is making marijuana use a right in Colorado. This issue is at the heart of two court cases involving medical marijuana. The first involves Jason Benior, a street sweeper and MMJ patient who was denied benefits after being fired for failing a drug test. However, a court found no right to use marijuana even for state-approved patients. More recently, Brandon Coats, a medical marijuana patient who is 80 percent paralyzed, is appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit after he, too, was fired (by Dish Network) after testing positive for THC.

Coats's attorney thinks MMJ patients could be fired en masse if his client loses his argument. On that subject, Colibri asks, "How can you be a responsible cannabis user without a job?"

Colibri adds that his proposal would legalize marijuana use in public spaces, much as is the case at coffee shops in Amsterdam. "The beauty of our language is, we want to be able to go to a place with responsible adults and consume with other responsible adults. You can do that with a hookah bar. [Amendment 64]'s language doesn't legalize anything; it decriminalizes."

Initiative 70 would limit personal cultivation to a quarter-pound per month. However, there would be no limits on the amount of cannabis purchased at a shop. Colibri says the language is modeled after federal home-brewing laws that limit the amount of untaxed beer a private individual can manufacture at home.

"That's an eighth a day," Colibri said. "If you want to go to a cannabis retailer because you're having a party or whatever and need more, great. There is no limit [to how much you can purchase]. But you never have to buy from anyone nor pay a dime if you don't want."

Page down to continue reading about Initiative 70. Penalties for minors and adults under 21 would be comparable to existing tobacco violations, including fines for minors in possession and sales to minors. As mentioned above, the bill does allow for eighteen-to-twenty year olds to eventually be given the right to consume cannabis legally, though it would require the approval of the Colorado general assembly to do so. If the Colorado legislature ever votes to allow eighteen year olds the right to consume herb, or if the feds ever get around to changing their minds, such penalties would be deemed irrelevant.

All commercial sales of cannabis would have to be licensed and taxed through the Colorado Department of Revenue Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement Division, whose name would be changed to include "cannabis." The DOR would be required to license and regulate cannabis "in a equal manner to and no more excessive or cost prohibitive than [tobacco]" and follow existing tobacco sales laws.

Retail sales would be taxed and 25 percent of taxes generated would go to a "safer communities fund," with 10 percent earmarked for public K-12 schools, 10 percent directed to state health care and 5 percent split between state drug and prison rehab programs. Voters can also approve an excise tax on cannabis up to 21 percent of the listed price, though such taxes wouldn't apply to industrial hemp or seeds.

It's not a bill for the no-taxes, no-regulation crowd of "hippies," Colibri says. "I'm pro regulation. If you aren't talking regulation, you should be excused from the room."

The proposal does limit untaxed personal cultivation to eight plants, four in flower and four in varying stages of vegetation. It also limits the amount of "consumable raw cannabis" one person can grow and smoke to four ounces per month. If two or more people are living together, the max amount is sixteen plants and eight ounces per month. Violation of those limits would result in a misdemeanor charge. Colibri said the restrictions are similar to federal home brewing laws currently in place.

The measure also addresses the THC DUI issue, stating that driving while impaired would be subject to state laws but adding that THC blood levels would be considered refutable evidence. Likewise, lawful marijuana use would be an affirmative defense to THC DUI per-se limits. Though it does give patients and regular users a more solid defense against blood-THC limits, the language also says that THC DUI will be subject to state laws, implying that either existing THC DUI laws would remain or that new ones would have to be created.

Finally, the bill would end Colorado funding enforcement of any federal marijuana laws against people in compliance with Initiative 70.

"I'm hoping to create is an oasis where [the feds] don't have an excuse to come in," he says. "It is like with alcohol prohibition when the states started regulating alcohol sales in conflict with the federal laws. The states said to the feds, 'You enforce it.' If our language were to pass, it would allow the state to wash their hands and say we can't assist you anymore."

Colibri started collecting signatures for I-70 at the 4/20 rally in Civic Center Park and estimates that 3,000 signatures were gathered over the two-day span. For more information check out www.equalizecannabis.com, and read the full text of the bill here.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana dispensary review and video: 420 Wellness on Alameda" and "4/20: Did organizer Miguel Lopez assault councilman's mom, sister over burritos?"

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