Rocky Mountain High, Colorado

As most everyone knows by now, on November 6, 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington State approved initiatives that allow the sale of marijuana and its use as a recreational substance. Both states allow the sale and use of the herb for medicinal purposes, and the revenue generated and collected as sales tax from the sale of marijuana has exceeded expectations and provided Colorado and Washington with a windfall that is more than welcome in an economy that has fallen flat. The vote to legalize marijuana for controlled, age-restricted use sends a message to the federal government that individual states are taking matters into their own hands and exploring and taking advantage of new, untapped sources of desperately needed revenue as Washington has failed to provide them with the same.

While marijuana may now be legal at the state level in two cases, the feds have declined to legalize it and wavered on their initial stance of not prosecuting citizens in states where it is legal. Both Colorado and Washington are aware of the position the feds have taken on the issue and clearly are not intimidated by their tactics and threats as they claim, rightfully so, that their states’ rights are being violated as the feds continue to make it difficult for legitimately licensed dispensaries to carry on and do business in a transparent, compliant manner. In Seattle, King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg has dismissed all misdemeanor offenses involving marijuana, in effect sending a message to Washington and the feds, challenging them to “bring it on. Bring on the fight.”

While the vote to legalize the substance for recreational use has been certified by Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, it will be awhile before consumers can hook up with herb legally as the state is working to clarify some issues before they become major problems. One complication is the absence of standards and tests that determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana, as marijuana remains in the body and can be detected far longer than alcohol. Once those standards are defined and reliable tests developed, legislation will be needed to determine penalties, similar to other laws that define penalties from driving under the influence of alcohol.

In Colorado, Hickenlooper has established a task force comprised of representatives from law enforcement, substance abuse counselors, and others who are in position to offer insight and make recommendations to better achieve and advocate for responsible, controlled use. The task force will be proposing recommendations shortly because Amendment 64 stipulates that the infrastructure for sales and distribution be in place by July 2013, allowing for sales to commence legally by January of 2014.

The vast amount of tax revenue may be the catalyst needed to successfully challenge Washington to modify the federal laws on marijuana, as convenience and grocery stores will certainly want a piece of the action and position themselves for a piece of the marijuana revenue pie. Giants such as King Soopers and 7-11 have the clout and the money to challenge the feds, and as the revenue starts to materialize, may convince the powers-that-be to relent on their position of no tolerance and recognize that the push to legalize marijuana has generated enough revenue and awareness of the voters that their continued ban on may indeed be enough to sway public opinion, thus forcing a candidate to take a stand on the issue. Simply put, the federal government needs to recognize that legalized marijuana is what the voters want, and their failure to provide them with their wishes may have serious political ramifications.

The historic actions taken by Colorado and Washington will remain under scrutiny as they travel down the path of legalization and compliance. The vote to legalize has and will continue to affect people on many levels and for different reasons, and will no doubt affect people for reasons not recognized at this stage of the process. For top state officials, this is a chance to stand up to Washington and fight for their states’ rights. Casual smokers will find comfort knowing that their actions will not jeopardize their future. Industries such as tourism will no doubt benefit from people coming to Colorado to legally enjoy what may be illegal in their home state while taking advantage of all the recreational activities the state has to offer. While the immediate effect is unclear as the law is put into place, one thing is very clear: the message to Washington that the free will of the citizens will prevail, regardless of their ugly threats and intimidation.