Passel of pot bills signed into law

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Gov. John Hickenlooper on May 28 signed several pieces of marijuana-related legislation into law, including those having to do with the regulation and proposed taxation of retail pot sales, which will soon become legal under Amendment 64.

The governor said at a Capitol bill-signing event that Colorado is “chartering new territory” when it comes to putting in place a regulatory model on a newly created industry that voters approved in November.

“The voters passed Amendment 64 by a clear majority,” said Hickenlooper, who opposed last fall’s ballot measure, which legalized recreational marijuana use and retail pot sales in the state. “That’s why we’re going to implement it as effectively as we possibly can.”

Among the bills signed by the governor was House Bill 1317, which puts in place the regulatory framework retail pot shops must obey, when they are allowed to begin operations on Jan. 1.

In-state residents who are 21 and older will be able to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at retail stores, per transaction, while out-of-state visitors are limited to a quarter of an ounce.

Colorado residents can also grow their own pot and possess up to six marijuana plants.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will have a nine-month head start on other businesses looking to enter into the retail pot arena. Pot shops — which will not be able to sell food or drinks that do not contain marijuana — must sell the drug in child-resistant packages that denote potency.

The state Department of Revenue will regulate the retail pot industry.

“When you are in uncharted territory, you need a North Star,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, a House Bill 1317 sponsor. “And the North Star we used was public safety and making sure we kept marijuana out of the hands of kids, cartels and criminals.”

The regulatory bill is also aimed at trying to appease the federal government, which has yet to respond to the pot legislation in Colorado. Marijuana use and sales are illegal under federal law.

Hickenlooper said he expects the feds will be “more specific” in how they respond to states like Colorado and Washington, where voters also recently approved recreational pot use, “relatively soon.”

Hickenlooper also signed House Bill 1318, which calls for the drug to be taxed at a 15 percent excise tax rate, and a 10 percent retail tax rate. That’s in addition to other state and local taxes.

Funds generated from the excise tax will go toward school construction.

Voters must approve the new taxes in November. Hickenlooper and other bill sponsors called on voters to support the tax measures, or run the risk of marijuana regulatory money being taken out of the state’s general fund.

“This is a plea to the people of Colorado to pass these taxes in the fall,” Pabon said.

Also becoming law on May 29 was House Bill 1325, which sets a standard by which it is illegal to get behind the wheel while under the influence of marijuana.

The bill limits drivers to five nanograms per millileter of blood for active THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient.

House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, joked that his multiple attempts at trying to pass a driving-stoned standard in the last few years have set a “modern Major League record.” However, he’s pleased that his efforts have finally become a realization.

“At the end of the day, this is probably the most important public safety legislation that has been signed into law this year,” Waller said.

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