Colorado Amendment 64

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Chronicle AM: CO Pot Law Challenged Again, RI Legalization Bill Filed, Global Pain Med Crisis, More (2/5/15)

Sheriffs from three states are suing Colorado over its pot law, legalization bills get filed in Rhode Island, new research scoffs at links between psychedelics and psychosis, heroin OD deaths are up, there's a big problem with global access to opioid pain medications, and more. 

No link between psychedelics and psychosis, researchers say. (Jelly Fish Times/
Marijuana Policy

Sheriffs From Three States Sue Colorado Over Legalization. Sheriffs from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska are the latest bunch to try to overturn the will of Colorado voters via a federal lawsuit. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver today asks the court to strike down Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana, and to order the closure of the state's more than 330 pot shops. The sheriffs claim Colorado's legalization creates "a crisis of conscience" for them and forces them to violate their oath to uphold the US Constitution.

Rhode Island Legalization Bills Filed. Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and House Finance Committee member Scott A. Slater (D-Providence) have introduced legislation to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and to establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. The bills are House Bill 5777 and Senate Bill 510. The state has been tagged as one of the more likely ones to legalize it through the legislature. 

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill on Hold. A bill that would allow access to CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy seizure disorders is alive, but on hold after the Senate State Affairs Committee decided it needed to be amended to address law enforcement concerns. The bill is Senate Bill 1106. Supporters are supposed to come up with amendments to address those concerns by next week.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that would allow for medical marijuana in the Tarheel State has passed its first reading in the House. The bill is House Bill 78


Researchers find No Link Between Psychedelics and Psychosis. Users of LSD and other psychedelics are no more likely to have mental health conditions than those who don’t, according to data from population surveys. The researchers said anecdotes about "acid casualties" dating back to the 1960s were precisely that—anecdotes. "We are not claiming that no individuals have ever been harmed by psychedelics," says the author of one of the two studies cited, Matthew Johnson, an associate professor in the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. "Anecdotes about acid casualties can be very powerful — but these instances are rare," he says. At the population level, he says, the data suggest that the harms of psychedelics "have been overstated."


Rate of Heroin Overdose Tripled Between 2010 and 2013, CDC Says. More than 8,200 Americans died of heroin overdoses in 2013, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That's an average of 23 people a day. The rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly tripled, from just under one per hundred thousand to just under three per hundred thousand. Who is dying has also changed. In 2000, the highest overdose rates were among middle-aged black, but by 2013, whites between 18 and 44 had the highest rates.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up the Ghost on Welfare Drug Testing. This week was the deadline for Gov. Rick Scott (R) to ask the Supreme Court to overturn lower court rulings that found his suspicionless welfare drug testing law unconstitutional. He didn't act. "We chose not to appeal this case," a spokesman said.


INCB Report Says 75% of World Population Still Doesn't Have Access to Pain Relief Meds. In its annual report released this week, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said about 5.5 billion people on the planet are in danger of suffering pain if they become chronically or terminally ill because they don't have access to opioid pain relief medications. Click on the link for more and to read the INCB report.

New Uruguay President Postpones Allowing Pharmacy Pot Sales. New President Tabare Vasquez, who took office Sunday, has decided to postpone implementing public sales of marijuana. His chief drug regulator, Milton Romani, said yesterday he was in "no rush" to start pharmacy sales. "I want this project to be successful," he said. "If we make a mistake by rushing, we fail." For those really interested in getting their weed right now, there are now 15 cannabis clubs in operation and more than 2,000 grows.

Hispanic American Historical Review Has Special Issue on Drugs in Latin America. Lots of good stuff in there for those with an interest in the topic. Here's the table of contents for the issue. 

Chronicle AM: DC Legalizes, Jamaica Decriminalizes, Maryland Heroin Crisis, More (2/25/15)

Marijuana possession and cultivation will be legal in DC in just a few hours, Jamaica gives final approval to decriminalization, marijuana and medical marijuana bills are popping up all over, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Increase Penalties for Manufacturing Concentrates. State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Rancho Niguel) filed a bill Monday that would "authorize enhanced sentences for manufacturing cannabis concentrates where a child under the age of 16 is present" or is injured. The measure is Senate Bill 305.

Poll Finds Coloradans Still Like Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday finds that 58% of state residents support Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in the state. Amendment 64 won with 55% of the vote, and support has only increased since then.

DC Marijuana Legalization in Effect Thursday. As of Thursday, it is no longer a crime to possess up to two ounces or grow up to six plants (only three in flowering). The Initiative 71 legalization initiative has gone into effect.

Florida Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay) has introduced Senate Bill 1176, which would legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces and six plants. The bill is identical to one he filed last year that went nowhere, and Bullard says he doubts this won will pass, either.

Maryland House Committee Hears Marijuana Bills. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday on five marijuana policy-related bills. Click on the link for details.

Vermont Legalization Bill Filed in House. State Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) introduced a bill Tuesday that would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Vermont. Nine cosponsors have signed on to House Bill 277, which mirrors Senate Bill 95, introduced last week by Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden).

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House today approved House Bill 1, which allows for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures and other major health conditions. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Kansas CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Wins House Committee Vote. For the first time, a measure allowing some form of medical marijuana has won a vote in the state legislature. The House Health and Human Services Committee Monday approved House Bill 2282, which would allow for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Tennessee CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Delayed. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is delaying a bill that would legalize low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Lawmakers decided Tuesday to bump any action back by at least two weeks. The bill is House Bill 197.

Kettle Falls Five Trial Gets Underway in Spokane. The trial of an Eastern Washington family accused of violating federal marijuana laws by growing their own medical marijuana legally under state law began today. The family is known as the Kettle Falls Five, but it's now the Kettle Falls Four after charges were dismissed against terminally ill patriarch Larry Harvey. The prosecution of the Harveys runs counter to Obama administration policy and congressional desire, but continues anyway.

Heroin and Opiates

Maryland Governor Declares Heroin a Statewide Crisis. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) Tuesday declared war on heroin, signing two executive orders to confront what he calls a heroin "epidemic." One order establishes the Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council to coordinate efforts among state agencies; the other creates the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, which is supposed to come up with recommendations by December 1.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Senate Passes Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. The state Senate Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 388, which would create a statewide system of reporting on asset seizures and forfeitures. Sponsors said that could be a first step toward undoing civil asset forfeiture. The measure now goes to the House.


Jamaica Decriminalizes Marijuana. Parliament's lower house Tuesday gave final approval to a government-supported bill that will decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja and allow for the growing of up to five plants. The bill also paves the way for a regulatory authority for medical, scientific, and therapeutic uses and allows Rastafarians to use the drug for religious purposes. Jamaica becomes the first Caribbean nation to decriminalize.

New British Marijuana Party Will Field Candidates. A new pro-marijuana political party has announced it will field up to a hundred candidates in general elections set for later this year. Cista -- Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol -- says it is inspired by legalization in some US states and wants to do the same in England.

Colorado and Washington Help Make the Case for Oregon's Measure 91 [FEATURE]

As Oregon voters consider Measure 91, an initiative on the November ballot that would regulate, legalize and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older, many are looking to how similar laws are affecting Colorado and Washington. Measure 91 supporters Tuesday brought together a panel of experts from those two pioneering states to make the case that marijuana legalization is a winner, with more positives than negatives for states that have taken the step.

With marijuana legalization, there has been a lot less of this... (
Admittedly, we have not had a lot of time to judge -- Colorado began allowing legal, regulated sales only this January and the first marijuana stores in Washington didn't open until July -- but early results have been promising.

In Colorado, the state has already taken in more than $27 million in taxes and fees, with more than $5 million already allocated to building schools. At the same time, violent crime in Denver has declined by 5.2%, even as the state is set to save somewhere between $12 million and $40 million in annual criminal justice system costs, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Both a Drug Policy Alliance six-month status report and a Brookings Center report on Colorado's situation have also found that legalization there is proceeding relatively smoothly, with few bumps.

In Washington state, the reviews are fewer since retail stores just began operating in July (although Brookings has issued a report), but customers bought $3.2 million worth of legal weed that first month, with sales doubling to more than $6.9 million in August. More than another $6 million worth had been sold in the first three weeks of September. Tax revenues from legal marijuana sales are estimated to reach $636 million over the next five years.

But while Washington retail sales have just gotten underway, the legalization of personal possession has been the law since the beginning of 2013, and the results on that front are remarkable. According to official state court data, the number of misdemeanor marijuana charges against adults dropped dramatically, from more than 5,500 in 2012 to only 120 last year.

The experiences of Colorado and Washington show that -- if done correctly -- marijuana legalization can be a big winner for other states as well, experts and officials from the two pioneer states said Tuesday.

"People call this an experiment, but it's time to treat marijuana like the drug it is, not the drug we fear it to be," said Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Singer, who was one of only two state representatives to endorse Amendment 64. "We have to thank the people for leading; the legislature has been following," he said.

Issues remain, Singer said, but the state is dealing with them.

"Lawmakers have to ensure that we responsibly regulate edibles and concentrates, so consumers are well aware of what they're putting in their bodies. We want consumers educated," he said. The legislature has passed a bill dealing with edibles.

"The biggest issue is banking, and a bill I sponsored created first-of-a-kind cannabis credit co-ops," Singer said. "We will soon be petitioning the Federal Reserve for services with members of the industry who have formed their own co-ops. When dispensaries get robbed, it's for the cash, not the marijuana."

...and a lot more of this. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
"When voters decided to support Amendment 64, they did so to bring marijuana above ground in the hope that it wouldn't detrimentally impact public health and safety, and so far, it hasn't," said Art Way, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The most important impact we've seen is that thousands of people are no longer being arrested for simple possession of marijuana in our state," he said.

"All marijuana offenses have declined by about 50%, and law enforcement resources have been freed up to fight violent crime," Way continued. "The state is saving millions of dollars a year in criminal justice system expenses."

For retired Denver police officer Tony Ryan, marijuana law enforcement was a distraction from more serious business.

"Chasing marijuana smokers was not at the top of my list because I needed my officers to handle calls for service," Ryan said. "We didn't have enough officers to cover calls, in part because of the distraction of doing narcotics enforcement, and when you're enforcing narcotics laws, you're mostly enforcing marijuana laws. This frees up police officers to do what they're supposed to do -- answer calls for service and work on solving crimes."

Lewis Koski is director of Marijuana Enforcement for the state of Colorado, and he said officials are keeping on top of the situation.

"We've recently been focused on how to comprehensively and effectively regulate the edibles manufacturing process," he said. "We also do licensing and monitoring of the businesses that cultivate, manufacture, transport, and sell marijuana, and our licensing process is pretty robust."

The department also runs stings to check for age compliance, he said. Increased youth access to marijuana is one of the most often heard fears of legalization foes.

"We put undercover underage individuals into the retail stores to see if they could buy anything, but what we've seen is a 100% compliance rate," he said.

While Washington hasn't had as lengthy an experience with legalized, taxed, and regulated sales as Colorado, experts and officials from the Evergreen State also said legalization was working for them.

"We've enjoyed a successful, albeit slow, launch," said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. "We did see the virtual elimination of marijuana possession arrests, which has resulted in a restoration of justice. We're no longer hounding people for the possession of marijuana in the state of Washington."

There are issues remaining, but they are soluble, Holmes said.

"One impediment is that our medical marijuana laws were in disarray after the former governor vetoed a regulation bill, and as a result, I-502 didn't touch medical at all," he noted. "The biggest unfinished business for us is how the legislature will address medical. Perhaps it will be folded into the I-502 system."

Holmes also pointed to the issue of revenue sharing, the problem of some localities opting out, and the lack -- so far -- of a legal supply adequate to put a sizeable dent in the black market.

Like his Colorado law enforcement colleague, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper saw legalization as a smart move.

"It's no secret that relations between police officers and the communities they are required to serve are strained, especially with young and poor people, and marijuana enforcement is a big factor in this," Stamper argued. "A vast number of poor young people of color have been arrested over the years. With I-502, there is a major shift in law enforcement priorities. Now, police can focus on burglaries and robberies and the like, and by freeing up resources, we can also deal a serious if not fatal blow to major drug dealers. This is making a huge and positive difference."

I-502 chief proponent Alison Holcomb was brief and to the point.

"I-502 has preserved public safety, reduced the burden on police and prosecutors, and generated significant new tax resources," she said.

"We've learned a lot from Colorado and Washington, and we purposefully set up a very deliberative process," said Oregon Measure 91 campaign spokesman Anthony Johnson. "The state will have a full year to analyze what's going on there and implement what's best for Oregon. We will regulate marijuana very much like we regulate beer and wine."

But first, they have to win. Measure 91 is leading in the polls, but by no means comfortably. Getting the message out about how things have gone in Colorado and Washington should only help.

United States

Report from the Denver 4/20 Celebration [FEATURE]

Legal marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, and now, just a few months in, Denver already appears to be well-placed to claim the title of America's cannabis capital. This past weekend, tens of thousands of people flooded into the city to celebrate the 4/20 holiday and attend the latest High Times Cannabis Cup.

There is a stage somewhere behind all that smoke.
For blocks around the north side expo center where the Cannabis Cup took place, thousands of eager pot aficionados clogged the streets, bringing traffic to a crawl, while inside, hundreds of exhibitors peddled their wares, demonstrating both the scope of cannabis-related commerce and the grasp of American entrepreneurs. Pot smoking was supposed to be allowed only in designated areas, which didn't include the lengthy lines of people waiting to get in the event, but that didn't seem to stop anybody.

Meanwhile, downtown at the Civic Center plaza facing the state capitol, the state's ban on public marijuana use was again ignored -- blatantly and massively -- at the Official 4/20 Rally. Despite Denver Police digital signs warning that public "Marijuana consumption is illegal" and "Marijuana laws enforced," at precisely 4:20pm on 4/20, the most massive, intense, and long-lasting could of pot smoke your reporter has ever seen wafted over the city. One hesitates to estimate how many pounds of marijuana went up in smoke in a few moments at the Civic Center.

Police made a few dozen arrests for public consumption over the course of the two-day rally, but the event was otherwise peaceable, and police generally kept a low profile.

Walking Raven and other retail marijuana outlets did big business over the 4/20 weekend.
And the city's marijuana retail outlets were doing brisk business, with lines of eager buyers, many from out of state, waiting for their chance to buy weed legally. In one pot store parking lot, middle-aged customers in a pick-up truck with Texas plates shared their happiness with a car-load of 20-somethings from Wisconsin, all of them drawn to Colorado by the chance to experience legal marijuana.

"I didn't think I'd live to see the day," said one of the Texans, smiling broadly, his brown paper bag filled with buds inside a blue prescription bottle with a child-proof cap and a label identifying the plant that grew the buds. "I don't know if I will live to see the day this is legal in Texas, so that's why we came here. This is history."

At the Walking Raven retail store on South Broadway last Saturday, proprietor Luke Ramirez oversaw a handful of employees tending to an unending line of customers. A favorite of customers and staff alike was Hong Kong Diesel, a 30% THC variety with a powerful aroma, going for more than $400 an ounce.

Like all of the first generation retail marijuana stores in the state, Walking Raven began as a medical marijuana dispensary, but transitioned into the adult retail business. That required time and money, Ramirez said.

"It was about $100,000 to start up, and it took about 100 days," he said, quickly adding that it was worth it.

"This is absolutely a profitable business model," Ramirez exclaimed between greetings to customers and issuing orders to his bud sellers. "We're paying a lot in taxes, but we have a large client base -- three million adults in Colorado, plus tourism."

Making the transition from a dispensary to an adult retail outlet also helped, Ramirez said.

"We've gone from about $3,000 a day in sales to $10,000," he explained.

The state of Colorado is making bank off Ramirez and his colleagues in the marijuana business. According to the state Department of Revenue, adult marijuana taxes and fees totaled $2 million in January and $2.5 million in February, the last month for which data is available. Observers expect that monthly figure to only increase as more stores open up.

Walking Raven proprietor Luke Ramirez
It's not all roses for Colorado's nascent pot industry, though. Ramirez ticked off the issues.

"The biggest obstacles are the government and its regulatory bodies," he said. "Will they increase or decrease taxes, what about zoning, how do we get out supply? Heavy regulation is an issue. And the seed-to-sale tracking program is very expensive; I have a full-time employee just for that."

And then there is that pesky federal marijuana prohibition. Although the Justice Department has made soothing noises about not picking on financial institutions that do business with the state's legal pot shops, most banks still have not gotten on board -- and there are other, related, issues, too.

"The federal law inhibits us from doing normal business," Ramirez said. "We can't get bank loans and we don't get the 280E federal tax break. We're classified as drug traffickers, so we can't write off our business expenses."

That's not to mention the security issues around dealing with large amounts of cash because the banks don't want to risk touching it.

"We have to have multiple safes and carry cash around," he said.

Still, Ramirez is open for business, and business is good. And not only is business good, Colorado's experiment with marijuana legalization seems to be advancing with few hiccups.

"Things are generally going quite smoothly," said Mason Tvert, an Amendment 64 proponent who is now a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Regulations are still being developed in certain areas, such as concentrates and edibles, but the system is up and running and working more or less as intended."

While it remains to be seen if the estimated $100 million in pot tax revenues this year actually happens, Tvert was confident the income would be substantial.

"We're now seeing a couple of million a month in tax revenues, and money from fees, as well," he said. "We will still see a lot more businesses opening in the future, so we anticipate revenues will increase. Also, all of the current stores were existing medical marijuana businesses that were able to make a tax-free transfer from medical to retail, but now they will have to start paying a 15% excise tax, which will bring in more than is currently being raised."

The state has, however, recently seen two deaths attributed to legal marijuana use, a college student from the Congo who fell from a balcony after eating a cannabis cookie, and a man who shot and killed his wife, also apparently under the influence of edibles (and perhaps pain pills). While the exact role of marijuana in those deaths is unclear, media and opponents have leaped on those tragedies.

The movement needs to address such incidents, said Tvert.

"We've known for some time that some people who have preexisting mental health conditions could find them exacerbated by marijuana," Tvert said. "People need to be educated about that. If marijuana were a major factor in these incidents, that is a rare thing, but it is something we should be looking and determining what we can do to better educate consumers and reduce the likelihood of any problems."

But such incidents notwithstanding, legalization is not about to get rolled back in Colorado. Instead, it's just getting started, and it's off to a pretty good start.

"This is the first quarter in the first year of a system just getting started," Tvert said. "Things are going pretty well."

Denver, CO
United States

Colorado Makes History with First Legal Retail Marijuana Sales [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

For many people New Year's Eve means going to bars and celebrating with a night of drinking and carousing with their friends. For Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham, the night was a little different. The duo flew into Denver from Jacksonville, Florida, in order to be first in line for Colorado's historic legal retail marijuana sales. Hartle and Hasham came prepared with a tent, and set up camp in front of 3D, Denver's Discrete Dispensary at 6:00pm on New Year's Eve. They were the first to arrive, making it even before the news cameras.

Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham made the pilgrimage from Jacksonville, FL, to be first in line. (Rebecca Chavez)
While there are quite a few retail marijuana stores opening to the public on January 1, 3D was the place to be for those interested in being a part of history. The Marijuana Policy Project sent out a December 27 press release stating that they were recognizing the first sale at 3D as the first sale. With a press conference planned, and an Iraq war veteran slated to be the first retail customer, 3D was buzzing with excitement in the early hours of the new year.

There were over a dozen people standing around outside, eager to get their hands on some of the first retail marijuana sold in the country, but the majority of the crowd had a more professional purpose. News crews and industry insiders sat in the lobby of 3D, while owner Toni Fox rushed around talking to press and making last minute adjustments.

For Fox, the opening of 3D for retail sales has been a long process that is "the culmination of everything we've been working towards." Many dispensary owners planned to make the switch when they found out about Amendment 64, but Fox started planning in 2009. When she started looking for space for her dispensary, she did it with a retail location in mind. This early decision paid off in a big way when it came time to hand out marijuana licenses for the city of Denver. The retail space is large and well lit.

Denver's Discreet Dispensary (3D) is now open for sales to adults 21 and over. (Rebecca Chavez)
Unlike many other dispensaries, this retail location is completely separate from the medical area. Before sales start, the area is set up to help people find exactly what they need. Fox expects that a lot of people won't know what to do when they get to a retail marijuana facility, so she's tried to make purchasing easy for someone experiencing a dispensary for the first time.

She even made the decision to limit the retail edibles that she offers early on to only those from Dixie Elixer, one of the few edible companies set up for retail sales. This choice keeps people who want to try an edible for the first time from having to sift through a multitude of options.

The publicity of being the first marijuana store is a great boost for 3D, but Fox knows that there are some risks involved, especially regarding the much buzzed-about marijuana shortage. Though the limit for Colorado residents is higher, Fox decided that she wouldn't make any sales of more than the non-resident limit of seven grams. Still she is concerned.

The sign says it all. Welcome to a new era. (Rebecca Chavez)
When asked whether there is going to be enough product, she states that 3D should have enough to last until February. "Or Monday," she said, sharing a laugh with one of her employees while acknowledging that the truth about retail marijuana is that no one knows the extent of the demand just yet.

Judging from the size of the crowd inside the building right before the press conference began, the novelty of marijuana is going to drive a lot of people to businesses like 3D. Media sources from around the world jockeyed to get the best view of a small podium where the directors behind the Amendment 64 campaign prepared to say a few words about what retail sales mean for marijuana, and what the future brings.

This is business as usual for Mason Tvert, Betty Aldworth, and Brian Vicente, the organizers of the successful Amendment 64 campaign that made marijuana legal in Colorado and who have all been doing press conferences about it for years now. This one is a little more chaotic than usual, and that's because the message is so unique. Aldworth sums it up when she says that this moment is a shift, and that "marijuana sales will be a boon instead of a burden" on our communities and our economy.

From left: Toni Fox, Betty Aldworth, Mason Tvert, Sean Azzariti, Brian Vicente (Rebecca Chavez)
The first proof of this occurs with the very first sale. Sean Azzariti is a veteran who uses marijuana to treat his post traumatic stress disorder, but who cannot get medication because the state doesn't recognize PTSD as one of the ailments that allows for medical marijuana use.

For the first time, he will be able to legally purchase the marijuana that has helped him get through the years since he fought in the Iraq War. This sale will provide the city and state with valuable tax dollars, while also boosting the local economy and providing jobs for people who want to work in marijuana.

Cameras and reporters flooded into the retail sale room to document the moment of the first sale. Outside the building, the dozens of people lined up to purchasse legal marijuana kept multiplying. The line stretched across the length of the building and, despite the falling snow, people were all smiles as they awaited their chance to be a part of history.

As Tvert pointed out during the press conference, "Today there will be people around the nation buying marijuana," but only in Colorado is it legal and regulated.

Colorado has initiated a new era in marijuana policy in the United States, and Washington state will be joining later this year. With Alaska and Oregon both well-placed to legalize it this year via the initiative process, and with other states about to consider marijuana legalization bills in their legislatures, the beginning of the end of US marijuana prohibition has commenced.

Denver, CO
United States

Legal Marijuana No Simple Matter for Colorado Retailers [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

Starting January 1, any person in Colorado over the age of 21 can walk into a retail marijuana facility and purchase marijuana with just a show of ID. While the process should be simple for those who choose to imbibe legally, things have not been so simple for the dispensary owners who have made the choice to sell retail marijuana. Luke Ramirez is one of these owners. His store, Walking Raven, sits on one of Denver's busiest streets.

For Ramirez, planning for retail marijuana sales began in February of 2012, when Walking Raven officially endorsed Amendment 64, the legalization initiative that won at the ballot that November. Even with almost two years of planning behind him, he finds that there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. It wasn't until May of 2013 that Ramirez and other dispensary owners knew what would be expected of them by the state. Even with state legislation settled, Amendment 64 allows for municipalities to come up with even stricter rules for retail marijuana stores.

Denver started working on its own regulations in September, and wasn't done when the Chronicle spoke with Ramirez in late December. Though he was only the seventh person in the city of Denver to apply for a license, the constant changes mean that he won't be able to open until about January 10, over a week beyond the official start of recreational marijuana sales. In late December Ramirez was still getting calls about changes to marijuana laws at the city level.

The process has been similar for dispensary owners all over Denver, which means it might be one of the few places where a legal retail marijuana shortage will happen right away. The licensing for retail locations and retail grows is happening at the same time. This would be a problem for those trying to open on January 1, except that the state has allowed a one-time transfer of medical marijuana to retail. This transfer is how all stores will start, and it gives a little something extra to the consumer as well.

The edible companies have to go through the same process as other marijuana facilities, but some are opting out in the early stages. During the one time transfer, marijuana stores can make some edibles retail that otherwise wouldn't be available. This means some store owners are stockpiling certain items that they feel will be popular with retail consumers.

Ramirez has opted out of stockpiling because he simply can't afford it. The cost of selling retail marijuana is incredibly high, which prices smaller dispensaries out of an immediate switch. All told, Ramirez has spent $60,000 dollars going through the process of getting licensed and prepared to make the switch. Before he actually gets his license he expects to spend about $10,000 more.

Inside Walking Raven (Rebecca Chavez)
Money is a huge concern for retail marijuana dispensaries, and Ramirez is unsure of whether they will be able to make it all back during the first few months of retail sales. He acknowledges that the supply for retail just won't meet the demand, and worries that owners will see the same marijuana shortage that caused some of them to temporarily close their doors in 2012. This, of course, affects the people who work behind the counter. Ramirez wants to make sure that all of his employees are well-taken care of, but he acknowledges that he may have to cut back on hours at some point.

The marijuana shortage has another effect on the market. With marijuana prices possibly going as high as $70 for an eighth, Ramirez says that retail marijuana "won't get rid of the black market until supply meets demand."

In the meantime, his store and many others will have to compete with the grey market that has sprung up on Craigslist since the passage of Amendment 64.

Despite the many difficulties in his way, and the five inspections that he has to go through, Ramirez is confident that he is making the right choice. While he cannot sell retail marijuana at present, he is concerned to ensure that marijuana is still available for his current customers: medical marijuana patients.

"Patients definitely still need medicine," he says, and that's why he's sure to always have some on hand, segregated from retail marijuana for non-patients.

Retail and medical marijuana are sold in the same store, but they have to be kept in separate containers. Medicinal users can purchase retail, but retail consumers cannot get any of the medical marijuana regardless of a possible shortage. Despite eventual plans to sell only 10% of his product as medicinal, Ramirez is determined to always be able to take care of the patients.

They are, after all, the ones that supported him before the end of prohibition in Colorado.

Denver, CO
United States

In Reversal, Denver Council Rejects Front-Porch Pot Ban

(front porch image, from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
[This article was originally published on the Speakeasy blog -- check out the Speakeasy for quick updates and commentary on a daily basis.]

Good, and, frankly, somewhat surprising news for Denver tokers. The city council last night reversed itself and undid the ban on marijuana smoking in public view even if on one's own property. There will be one more vote on the ordinance next week.

According to KUSA TV, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd offered up an amendment to undo the ban, which had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. The vote last night to reverse was 7-6.

Shepherd suggested that rather than calling the police, neighbors try being neighborly. That would mean talking to your neighbor if his marijuana smoke bothers you, and dealing with your neighbor's concerns if your marijuana smoke bothers him.

Sounds reasonable.

Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.


New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Colorado Releases Temporary Marijuana Sales Rules

The Colorado Department of Revenue Monday released temporary rules for the operation of legal marijuana commerce, providing more details on what the nascent industry will look like, but still leaving many complicated matters unresolved.

The department had only about a month to come up with the rules after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed off on the legislature's starting framework in late May. Officials hope to have complete rules in place before marijuana stores are supposed to open in January. The interim rules expire in October, and state officials have said they will engage in a more detailed rule-making process to spell out just what is and is not allowed.

While the temporary rules take up 64 pages, some of the highlights include requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to bar minors if they want to sell recreational marijuana, requiring child-proof packing for marijuana and marijuana-infused products (edibles), and requiring that marijuana be labeled with the license numbers of the producer and retailer, as well as an as yet undetermined "universal symbol, indicating that the container holds marijuana."

The temporary rules note that more regulatory detail will be coming in areas such as advertising, health and safety protections, labeling, testing, and inventory control. They contain little detail on key aspects, particularly the "seed-to-sale" tracking system which has been the bedrock of the state's efforts to prevent diversion.

"The State Licensing Authority intends to engage in additional rulemaking to establish additional inventory tracking system requirements," the department said in the rules.

Denver, CO
United States

Colorado Marijuana Commerce Bills Approved

The Colorado legislature Wednesday approved a pair of bills that will establish a regulated marijuana market for adults. The legislature was charged with doing so when voters approved the marijuana legalization Amendment 64 last November.

On the down side, the legislature earlier approved another bill, House Bill 1325, which would set a level of THC in the blood above which drivers would be presumed to be impaired. Drivers with 5 milligrams or more of THC per milliliter of blood would be considered to be impaired, but could challenge that presumption in court.

The marijuana regulation bills are House Bill 1317 and House Bill 1318. The former creates the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing, while the latter enacts a 10% special sales tax (above and beyond standard sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales.

Under Colorado law, the tax bill will have to be approved by voters in November. But three-quarters of Colorado voters support such pot taxation, according a Public Policy Polling survey.

"The adoption of these bills is a truly historic milestone and brings Colorado one step closer to establishing the world's first legal, regulated, and taxed marijuana market for adults," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent and campaign co-director for the ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in November. "Facilitating the shift from the failed policy of prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation has been a huge undertaking, and we applaud the many task force members, legislators, and others who have helped effect this change," Tvert said. "We are confident that this legislation will allow state and local officials to implement a comprehensive, robust, and sufficiently funded regulatory system that will effectively control marijuana in Colorado."

Look for an in-depth analysis of the new regulations coming soon.

Denver, CO
United States

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