Cannabis in Colorado
Cannabis in Colorado refers to cannabis (the legal term for marijuana) use and possession in the state of Colorado. The Colorado Amendment 64, which was passed by voters on November 6, 2012, led to legalization in January 2014. The policy has led to cannabis tourism. There are two sets of policies in Colorado relating to cannabis use: those for medicinal cannabis and for recreational drug use along with a third set of rules governing hemp.
Amidst an early 20th century trend of limiting the drug, Colorado first restricted cannabis on March 30, 1917. In November 1914 Colorado voters approved the 22nd Amendment to the Colorado Constitution, also known as the Prohibition Amendment, prohibiting alcohol beginning January 1, 1916; and on December 18, 1917 the Eighteenth Amendment (establishing Prohibition) was proposed by Congress.
Shortly after the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act went into effect on October 1, 1937, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Denver Police Department arrested Moses Baca for possession and Samuel Caldwell for dealing. Baca and Caldwell’s arrest made them the first marijuana convictions under U.S. federal law for not paying the marijuana tax. Judge Foster Symes sentenced Baca to 18 months and Caldwell to four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary for violating the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.
In 1975, during a decade-long wave of increased penalties and prosecutions in the country, including dramatic increases in the length of prison sentences, a 53% increase in drug arrests, a 188% increase in the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, and a 52% increase in the number of people in state prisons for drug offenses, Colorado continued to prosecute people and incarcerate individuals for marijuana possession.[needs update] 
A contributing factor in the favor of decriminalization was the work on behalf of NORML by Pitkin County Deputy District Attorney Jay Moore, who helped win over the legislature’s Republican leadership with arguments as to money wasted on needless enforcement of marijuana laws.[needs update]
Medical marijuana (2000)
On November 7, 2000, 54% of Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, which amended the State Constitution to allow the use of marijuana in the state for approved patients with written medical consent. Under this law, patients may possess up to 2 ounces (57 g) of medical marijuana and may cultivate no more than six marijuana plants (no more than three of these mature flowering plants at a time). Patients who are caught with more than this in their possession may argue “affirmative defense of medical necessity” but are not protected under state law with the rights of those who stay within the guidelines set forth by the state. Furthermore, doctors, when making a patient recommendation to the state can recommend the rights to possess additional medicine and grow additional plants, because of the patient’s specific medical needs. Conditions recognized for medical marijuana in Colorado include: cachexia; cancer; chronic pain; chronic nervous system disorders; epilepsy and other disorders characterized by seizures; glaucoma; HIV or AIDS; multiple sclerosis and other disorders characterized by muscle spasticity; and nausea. Additionally, patients may not use medical marijuana in public places or in any place where they are in plain view, or in any manner which may endanger others (this includes operating a vehicle or machinery after medicating). Colorado medical marijuana patients cannot fill prescriptions at a pharmacy because under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I drug. Instead, patients may get medicine from a recognized caregiver or a non-state-affiliated club or organization, usually called a dispensary. Dispensaries in Colorado offer a range of marijuana strains with different qualities, as well as various “edibles” or food products that contain marijuana extracts. Certain dispensaries also offer patients seeds and “clones” for those who want to grow their own medicine.
In April 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals held in Coats v. Dish Network that since marijuana remains against federal law, employers can use that standard rather than state law as a rationale for banning off-the-job worker use, and are not bound by Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute:
The primary question before us is whether federally prohibited but state-licensed medical marijuana use is “lawful activity” under section 24-34-402.5, C.R.S. 2012, Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute. If it is, employers in Colorado would be effectively prohibited from discharging an employee for off-the-job use of medical marijuana, regardless that such use was in violation of federal law. We conclude, on reasoning different from the trial court’s analysis, that such use is not “lawful activity.”
On June 10, 2016 Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 16-1359. This bill stated that the court shall not prohibit the use or possession of medical marijuana as a condition of probation unless the individual is sentenced to probation for a conviction under Article 43.3 of Title 12, C.R.S.; or if the court determines based upon any material evidence that such a prohibition is necessary and appropriate to accomplish the goals of sentencing stated in 18-1-102.5, C.R.S.
Recreational marijuana (2012)
Since the enactment of Colorado Amendment 64 in November 2012, adults aged 21 or older can grow up to six marijuana plants (with no more than half being mature flowering plants) privately in a locked space, legally possess all marijuana from the plants they grow (as long as it stays where it was grown), legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana while traveling, and give as a gift up to one ounce to other citizens 21 years of age or older. Any adult in Colorado’s territory may possess up to one ounce of marijuana at any time, regardless of whether they are an in-state resident or an out-of-state visitor, as of 2016. Retail concentrate/edible limits are as follows: 8g of retail concentrate will be equal to 1oz of flower, and therefore 800mg of THC in the form of retail edibles will be equal to 1oz of retail flower. Consumption is permitted in a manner similar to alcohol, with equivalent offenses prescribed for driving. Consumption in public was recently passed in Denver under Ordinance 300 with a vote of 53% for legal public consumption, and a 46% vote against. Within 60 days the new rules will be written and should be similar to current public alcohol consumption rules and regulations. Amendment 64 also provides for licensing of cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. Visitors and tourists in Colorado can use and purchase marijuana, but face prosecution if found in possession in any adjacent state. Denver airport has banned all possession of marijuana but admits it has not charged a single person with possession nor has the airport seized any marijuana since the ban went into effect.
Governor Hickenlooper signed several bills into law on May 28, 2013 implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64. On September 9, 2013, the Colorado Department of Revenue adopted final regulations for recreational marijuana establishments, implementing the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code (HB 13-1317). On September 16, 2013, the Denver City Council adopted an ordinance for retail marijuana establishments. The state prepared for an influx of tourists with extra police officers posted in Denver. Safety fears led to officials seeking to limit use of the drug in popular ski resorts. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released July 21, 2014, Coloradans continued to support the state’s legalization of marijuana for recreational use by a margin of 54–43 percent. At the same time, the poll indicated 66 percent of voters there think marijuana use should be legal in private homes and in members-only clubs, but should not be legal in bars, clubs or entertainment venues where alcohol is served. Sixty-one percent of respondents also said laws regulating marijuana use should be as strict as laws regulating alcohol use.
During 2014, the first year of implementation of Colorado Amendment 64, Colorado’s legal marijuana market (both medical and recreational) reached total sales of $700 million. In September 2014, legislation was submitted by Alabama senator Jeff Sessions to ensure that Electronic Benefit Transfer cards could not be used to purchase marijuana, as the United States Department of Health and Human Services stated that their usage in marijuana shops was not prohibited.
By April 2018, revenue from legalized marijuana only amounted to 2% of the state’s education budget, with some calling it “a drop in a bucket.” During this month, sales records showed that marijuana sales were flat and were about the same as they were the previous year.
General regulations for the legal commercial production and vending of marijuana in the state, which continue to be updated by the General Assembly, are published through the Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue.
Like other states, driving while impaired by any drug is illegal in Colorado, though it took the legislature six attempts and three years to pass marijuana intoxication measures. Ultimately the legislators decided on a nanogram limit in the bloodstream, though the number they picked was scoffed at by activists. Today Colorado law states that juries may convict a person of marijuana intoxication if they have five or more nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, but defendants are allowed to argue that they were not intoxicated despite having such levels of THC in their bloodstream.
Since the legalization of recreational Marijuana in the state of Colorado testing an individual’s level of intoxication has proven to a challenge. “There is no one blood or oral fluid concentration that can differentiate impaired and not impaired,” (Berger, 2018). This is due to body’s inability to efficiently process tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. In turn this has led to many individuals being wrongly accused of being under the influence and while they may have tested positive to a drug test the individual may not have consumed the drug for up 30 days prior. As a result the court systems have seen undue hardships of over booking and baseless accusations. This has also proven to be an issue for employers as marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 narcotic and federally illegal. Employers with zero tolerance policies are finding themselves with fewer applicants that can pass a drug screening and those fail random drug screenings are losing their employment. Better testing needs to be established so those that wish to participate in what is now legal can do so without fear of incarceration or unemployment due to inadequate methods of testing.
The Colorado amendment 64, which was passed by voters on November 6, 2012, led to legalization in January 2014.
Surveys conducted in Colorado in 2016 interviewed over 17,000 students in middle & high school showing that from 2009 to 2015 the rates in which teenagers smoked marijuana has decreased. Colorado has also seen the percentage of teenagers who have smoked marijuana in the past 30 days drop to 21%, from 25%.
The number of teenagers sent to emergency rooms more than quadrupled after marijuana was legalized. The state has also seen car crash claim rates increase after legalization, but there has been no increase in fatalities in comparison with other states. Colorado’s youth marijuana use rate dipped after legalization and is lower than the national average.
In 2014, Colorado invested $2 million generated from marijuana sales tax revenue on campaigns aimed at anti-marijuana education of minors and the state has plans to spend double that amount, $4 million in 2015 (out of a total projected marijuana sales tax revenue of $125 million). The current campaigns provide information on marijuana laws, the impacts of youth use, the dangers of driving under the influence of any drug, and the harmful side effects of using marijuana.
In 2017, the government of Colorado collected over $247 million in taxes, fees, and licensing costs.
- Colorado Amendment 44 (2006)
- Colorado Amendment 64 (2012)
- Law of Colorado
- Cannabis Law Reform
- Prohibition of drugs
- Washington Initiative 502
- Colorado Badged Network
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- Session Laws of Colorado. 21st Assembly. 1917. Ch. 39, p. 120. OCLC 1564150.
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- Amendment 64:(4)
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- HB 13-1317 Implement Amendment 64 Majority Recommendation; HB 13-1318 Retail Marijuana Taxes; SB 13-283 Implement Amendment 64 Consensus Recommendations; HB 13-1325 Inferences For Marijuana And Driving Offenses; SB 13-250 Drug Sentencing Changes
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