2013 LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP

The highs and lows of implementing Amendment 64

The Colorado Statesman

Lawmakers wanted nothing to do with the “joint” effort. But when leadership put together the Joint Select Committee on the Implementation of the Amendment 64 Task Force Recommendations, they had no choice but to implement the will of voters and establish a regulated marijuana marketplace for adults. It was anything but a high time, but still they prevailed.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, had the joy of chairing the committee. Reps. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, Jenise May, D-Aurora, Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, and Jonathan Singer, D-Boulder, were appointed in the House. Sens. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Jessie Ulibarri D-Commerce City, were appointed in the Senate.

The committee’s job was to implement nearly 60 policy recommendations dictated by a task force convened by Gov. John Hickenlooper shortly after Amendment 64 passed in November. The goal was to pioneer rules and regulations for the uncertain, budding industry. The report lawmakers had to work with from the task force was a whopping 165 pages long.

“I see this as a gift that we’re giving the legislature, and fortunately, I think they see it that way as well,” Jack Finlaw, co-chairman of the task force and chief legal counsel to Hickenlooper, said in March as the report was made available to the legislature.

Pabon, who sat on the task force and chaired the implementation committee, was certainly grateful for the direction. But he did not view much of the implementation process as a gift. The Assistant Majority Leader found himself working into the wee hours for over two months attempting to balance the powerful lobbying interests of both marijuana activists and concerned moms.

Judging by his sheer jubilation when the three bills that govern regulation finally passed both chambers, it was obvious that Pabon was glad to be done with the process. But he acknowledged that because the topic is uncharted territory, the legislature will likely be faced with it again.

“We did a very good job in the very short amount of time that we did it,” he said from the floor of the House on May 8. “But I think we’re going to have to come back and make some adjustments.”

Hickenlooper on May 28 signed House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 283, which requires the Department of Revenue in July to begin implementing prescribed rules and regulations, as well as House Bill 1318, which asks voters this November to approve a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent special sales tax to fund enforcement.

He also signed Senate Bill 241, which established a regulated system for the cultivation of industrial hemp.

The tax question is likely to pass, with polling placing it as high as 77 percent. Expect to see public officials, including Hickenlooper, advocating for its passage. Without the money, regulating the marketplace will be complicated, if not impossible. Marijuana activists have also vowed to support the tax.

For the governor, marijuana legalization was a long, strange trip. When it passed, he cracked a joke: “Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly,” referring to the love of munchies by pot heads and the uncertainty of a crackdown by the federal government.

While Hickenlooper certainly never endorsed legalization, he has shifted his tone. Just the fact that he held a signing ceremony for the bills indicated that he was more serious about the issue.

“Clearly we are charting new territory, other states haven’t been through this process… recreational marijuana is really a completely new entity, but really the bills we’re signing today really do lay out this new territory,” Hickenlooper remarked at the signing ceremony.

DU-High finally gets by

The governor also signed House Bill 1325, which sets a 5-nanogram limit of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, at the time of a suspected driving offense. Essentially, it creates a separate DUID limit for marijuana. House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, passionately sponsored the measure.

DUID-Marijuana has become sort of a running joke at the Capitol. It was nicknamed the “zombie bill” because of the six times it died and was resurrected in the last three years.

This year was no different. The effort started as House Bill 1114. It looked promising when the House gave it overwhelming approval. But then the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 22 decided to kill it.

In an act of desperation, lawmakers amended one of the legalization regulatory bills, HB 1317, to include the DUID proposal. But concerns were raised about connecting the criminal issue to a regulatory bill, and so a separate bill was introduced.

HB 1325 was introduced on May 2 and given a committee hearing on the same day, a very rare occurrence. The bill continued to sail through the legislature until it passed and was signed by the governor.

A similar proposal died last year on the Senate floor. But King used a procedural rule to revive it for a recorded vote. Oddly, the Senate then backed the measure by one vote.

With only a week to clear the House at the time, the bill died on the calendar. But the bill would not go away. Hickenlooper called a special session to address civil unions, and DUID was added to the call. But when it made it back to the Senate floor, the bill died again, until it was brought back this year.

For Waller and King, who have been advocating for driving under the influence of marijuana penalties for years, the victory couldn’t have been sweeter. When the measure finally passed this year, Waller grinned from ear to ear and exclaimed, “Better late than never.

“Amendment 64 brings Colorado into new and foreign territory,” he continued. “Equipping law enforcement with the tools they need to ensure people make safe decisions behind the wheel is critical to maximizing public safety.”

King also boasted, adding, “After six attempts in the last three years, the victims and the families of those who were killed or injured by drivers impaired by marijuana can have some comfort that this law will serve as a significant deterrent to impaired drivers.”

Balancing interests

There was perhaps no greater presence at the Capitol end of session than the marijuana lobby, which included proponents and opponents. Lawmakers were compelled to balance both interests.

Often after committee hearings, lobbyists from both sides would surround members of the implementation task force to express their desires. Legislators did a remarkable job including all perspectives in the legislation.

The fighting between the two sides of the debate was epic at times. News conferences would end with proponents and opponents pointing fingers and shouting in faces. It was not unusual to see the two sides battling it out late at night in the middle of the hallways of the Capitol.

Opponents who called themselves “concerned moms” formed as the group Smart Colorado. The myriad of concerns raised by the group led to countless amendments that would shape the legislation, including protecting children from the drug and educating on the potentially harmful effects. The group also lobbied against using general fund dollars to pay for enforcement.

Smart Colorado applauded a proposal to repeal the retail portion of Amendment 64 when Senate leadership — including Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs — pushed a last-ditch effort to ask voters to prohibit retail if the tax question failed.

But the legislative leaders introduced the proposal in the evening and assigned it to committee on the same night causing an uproar. They were eventually pressured by colleagues to drop the effort.

When Hickenlooper finally signed the bills, Smart Colorado called the day “historic.” But they expressed continuing fears.

“We remain deeply concerned that certain important public safeguards were not put in place, and many important issues remain unresolved,” said Diane Carlson, spokeswoman for Smart Colorado. “This is not surprising given the incredibly tight time frame to decide such important policy and the enormity of the task.”

Opponents have turned their attention to local governments, which are allowed to implement their own rules and regulations, including banning retail sales.

“We urge government officials and local elected officials to be prudent and thoughtful and to put public health and safety and the interests of everyday Coloradans and our youth ahead of those looking to profit from the mass commercialization of marijuana,” continued Carlson.

Meanwhile, marijuana activists cheered passage, also calling implementation “historic,” but for different reasons.

“Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to adopt a marijuana policy that reflects the public’s increasing support for making marijuana legal for adults,” declared Mason Tvert, lead proponent for the initiative. “Marijuana prohibition is on its way out in Colorado, and it is only a matter of time before many more states follow its lead.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com

See the June 21 print edition for a full listing of all the legislative enactments from the 2013 session.