The state of Washington may provide Colorado with some ideas of how — or how not — to handle the legalization of marijuana.
As the reality of legalized pot in Colorado became official Dec. 10 when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a proclamation, certifying the vote, marijuana advocates in the northwest coastal state had already been legally lighting up for a few days.
According to an Associated Press story that ran Dec. 7 – one day after pot officially became legal in Washington – the Seattle Police Department instructed its officers only to issue verbal warnings in cases of public use and not to write citations as offenders of the public use law flocked to the Space Needle to celebrate legalization publicly.
According to the story, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter that officers would be advising people to take their marijuana inside.
“The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to,” Spangenthal-Lee wrote.
On the home front
Lawmakers in Colorado, led by Hickenlooper’s recently appointed task force, are still figuring out details of the new Colorado law.
Will local law enforcement act the way of Seattle’s police force? No one can say for sure when it comes to municipalities such as Denver, Boulder or some of the more liberal-leaning mountain towns, but in Douglas County, lighting up in public will definitely cross the line.
“I’m the type of guy where what you do in your house is your business, but once you bring it out to the street it’s a different ballgame,” said Douglas County Sheriff David A. Weaver. “Especially with our youth. If someone (possessing pot) is coming from a school, there’s a problem there.”
Under Amendment 64, marijuana remains illegal on school grounds throughout the state, and even the University of Colorado at Boulder recently announced pot would not be allowed on campus or in campus dormitories.
“Local law enforcement is in a very tight spot, because you are going to have this possession which is legal, but there’s no legal supply yet,” said Colorado Deputy Attorney General David Blake. “We know it came from an illicit source, but where?”
DUID, a growing problem
Now that Hickenlooper has certified the vote, officers could be dealing with an increase in impaired drivers, something that will be somewhat of a gray area until laws are set into place.
“Law enforcement,” Blake said, “is going to be interacting soon with questions of ‘what the heck do I do when I pull someone over who is impaired?’ ‘How do I establish probable cause to get to testing for impairment?’ and then ‘When I take that person to court how do I prove it that they were in violation of the law?’”
Weaver said his deputies will be on the lookout for drivers under the influence, but as Blake points out, there are numerous legalities at play when making an arrest.
“We can’t do blood draws on the street like we can do a breathalyzer test without a warrant,” Blake said. “That backs into the question of what does probable cause look like. If an ounce of pot is legal, it doesn’t create probable cause to actually conduct a search or go get a blood test.”
Blake said estimates are that somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000 adults in Colorado who have been deterred by the illegality of marijuana are expected to take advantage of the new law.
This is likely to add to already growing issues on the road. The number of impaired drivers due to marijuana has been steadily growing since new medical marijuana regulations were put in place in 2008 and, according to Blake, a record 11,000-plus drivers were pulled over for DUID last year.
“The strongest thing we can do to try and deter that is to pass a DUID bill,” Blake said. “(Colorado Attorney General) John (Suthers) has endorsed that at a 5 nanogram level. The opposition to that is that there is no science behind that, that at a 5 nanogram level, everyone is impaired. Our answer to that is that there is no evidence at .08 under alcohol that everyone is impaired. It is purely a public policy decision. You have to draw a line somewhere.”
Growing legally and the feds
According to Blake, there are massive grows currently going on in warehouses throughout the Centennial State, with upward of 50,000 plants per warehouse. Each of those grows is currently restricted as to how much they can grow based on their working partnership with medical dispensaries and are capped at 50,000 plants.
“There are no such restrictions in Amendment 64,” Blake said, “meaning not only could you have grows of 50,000 plants, you could have grows of much, much larger.”
That said, Blake’s assumption is that if the feds make the decision to supersede the new state laws with federal law, it is expected that they will go after the big grow operations as well as the manufacturers that are producing edibles and other marijuana-infused products.
“Will the feds do something? I don’t know,” Blake said. “We are certainly pushing the federal government to take a position, some sort of clear, bright line. If they are not going to enforce, that tells us one thing. If they are going to enforce, that tells us another. If they are going to enforce aggressively against grows and therefore affect the supply chain, that tells us something else entirely.
“It’s an entirely new world. We’ve just created a new market that has been illegal for decades. Alcohol was legal before it was prohibited. We’re facing some very difficult, challenging questions.”