Colorado Marijuana Law: Blueprint for Other States

In Colorado, January 1, 2014 was a much anticipated date.  It was the first day that marijuana became available for sale for recreational use.  Long lines formed in the snowy weather outside 24 of the state’s 37 licensed shops, which opened at 8am.  People from all over the country have been watching to see how they can expect a marijuana legalization campaign unroll in their own states, or perhaps nationwide.

Though smoking marijuana in public remains illegal in Colorado – much as drinking alcohol in public is illegal – only two citations were issued during the day.  Eating pot-laced baked goods, such as truffles, cookies and brownies, in public is much harder to track.  The fact remains, though, that there have been no complaints about ill behavior, even in the initial fervor and novelty of marijuana’s statewide legalization.  The rollout has virtually unanimously been considered smooth and hardly noticeable to non-users.

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The most noticeable quirk of the program has been the distribution of pot licenses.  Almost all the licensed shops are in Denver, but no shops at all were licensed in Boulder, Colorado’s third largest city and famously socially progressive college town.  Part of this is due to the fact that Boulder County has been slow in putting its local marijuana regulations in place, but in part this has been due to decisions at the state level.  Boulder’s first shops will open in late January at the earliest.  Many Boulderites traveled to Denver to take part in the festivities.

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As Washington State and the country of Uruguay complete their regulatory frameworks and prepare to open their first licensed marijuana shops, all eyes are on Colorado.  Many of Colorado’s regulations were intended to satisfy Department of Justice requirements.  These include stricter limits on the amount of pot out-of-staters are allowed to purchase, stipulations the pot must be used within the state, limits on hours retailers can be open, and, of course a minimum age of 21 for any pot purchasers.

Though the fears of legalized marijuana’s detractors have not been realized, neither have all the hopes of its supporters.  Competition with medicinal marijuana has not pushed the price of medicinal marijuana down, and contrary to many people’s expectations, the number of pot users has risen dramatically since the substance was legalized.  It has increased demand for the drug as opposed to simply filling demand, meaning that black markets will continue to exist. Shop owners state that they will be sold out soon.

Colorado’s marijuana legalization has in many ways served as a testing ground for the whole country, and indeed the world.

Groups like the Tenth Amendment Center praised Colorado’s historic event. After the first day of legal pot sales – which brought in over $1 million in sales – the Tenth Amendment Center wrote, “Yesterday, the people of Colorado nullified Washington DC and its unconstitutional federal laws banning marijuana – in a big, big way.”

The nullification movement has become a popular one. Many states nullified federal laws such as, NDAA, federal gun laws, and drug laws as in Colorado’s case. South Carolina lawmakers are holding an Obamacare nullification rally at the state capital on Jan 14th to gain support for the South Carolina Freedom of Health Care Protection Act (H3101). If passed, lawmakers would use an anti-commandeering mechanism that would kill Obamacare in the state.

Like the Colorado law, it essentially nullifies federal law.  Judge Napolitano argues that states have the Constitutional right to nullify federal laws that are unconstitutional.  “A state’s noncompliance makes federal enforcement nearly impossible,” says Napolitano.

According to the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly, Colorado projects $578.1 million a year in combined wholesale and retail marijuana sales to yield $67 million in tax revenue. That’s a lot of money for cash strapped states.

Right now, all eyes are on Colorado, and other states are taking notes.

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