The following is based largely on personal conversations with reliable sources who attended both subcommittees; regrettably, my work schedule did not allow me to attend.
Colorado’s Amendment 64 task force, convened by Governor Hickenlooper, has begun the long, hard work of implementing Amendment 64 in a way that protects both voters’ intent and the other, varied interests of Colorado. Two subgroups met on the first Thursday of 2013 to discuss health and safety; regulation; labeling; and related issues.
The members of the task force are:
Rep. Dan Pabon, appointed by the incoming Speaker of the House;
Sen. Cheri Jahn, appointed by the incoming President of the Senate;
Rep.-elect Dan Nordberg, appointed by the incoming House Minority Leader;
Sen.-elect Vicki Marble, appointed by the incoming Senate Minority Leader;
David Blake, representing the Colorado Attorney General;
Kevin Bommer, representing the Colorado Municipal League;
Eric Bergman, representing Colorado Counties Inc.;
Chris Urbina, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment;
James Davis, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety;
John Salazar, the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture;
Ron Kammerzell, the Senior Director responsible for the Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division;
Christian Sederberg, representing the campaign to pass Amendment 64;
Meg Sanders, representing the medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation industry;
Craig Small, representing marijuana consumers;
Sam Kamin, a person with expertise in legal issues related to the legalization of marijuana;
Dr. Christian Thurstone, a person with expertise in the treatment of marijuana addiction;
Charles Garcia, representing the Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice;
Larry Abrahamson, representing the Colorado District Attorney’s Council;
Brian Connors, representing the Colorado State Public Defender;
Daniel Zook, an at-large member from outside of the Denver area;
Tamra Ward, representing the interests of employers; and
Mike Cerbo, representing the interests of employees.
In the subgroup dedicated to labeling and regulation, fiscal considerations were of paramount importance. Committee members indicated that the existing staffing and budget for medical marijuana regulation, investigation, and enforcement may be inadequate to cope with recreational legalization in the event that commercial sales of marijuana can be permitted, as required by Amendment 64. The committee discussed the regulation of alcohol as compared to medical marijuana regulation, and considered which regulatory framework would be closest to ideal regulation of recreational marijuana use.
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The regulatory subgroup was businesslike and eager to tackle the challenges of implementing Amendment 64. Task force members made clear to members of the public that Amendment 64 is the law of the land, and that the committee would not debate the wisdom of marijuana legalization. Discussion was tightly focused on specific steps toward regulation and implementation, with the task force facing a late February deadline to produce its recommendations.
Another subgroup focused on health and safety issues related to the recreational legalization of marijuana. In this hearing, members of the public were livelier, with public comment from both marijuana proponents and opponents heard. However, as in the regulatory committee, the task force encouraged discussion to focus on the harm mitigation possible while respecting Amendment 64 as the law of the land, not on whether or not marijuana should be legal. Although passionate, discussion remained civil and focused, thanks in large part to the businesslike tone set by the task force itself.
Marijuana activists described their relief and gratitude at seeing, in some cases, decades of work validated. Those concerned about public safety and health were, by and large, respectful, diplomatic, and caring. Common ground was present, with some legalization advocates conceding that marijuana is not entirely harm-free–although, of course, they were equally ready to point out that alcohol, tobacco, and even soft drinks may do more harm to their users than marijuana.
Cynicism is a healthy response whenever a governmental body convenes to reluctantly implement policy that was taken out of policymakers’ hands by the voting public. As marijuana activists remember, Colorado’s medical marijuana industry has been hamstrung at various turns by stifling regulatory burdens (and sometimes by the misbehavior of obnoxious, impossible to work with marijuana activists). However, at this early date, most activists are prepared to compliment Governor Hickenlooper on convening a task force that appears so far to be moderate, responsible, and hard-working. A final judgment on the task force can only be made after its recommendations are delivered, but at this early date, optimism and a businesslike demeanor prevail among advocates on both sides of the marijuana issue.