Colorado marijuana task force issues 58 recommendations on how pot should be grown, sold and taxed

Voters still need to approve sales tax on pot

DENVER - Colorado's marijuana task force released 58 recommendations Wednesday on how recreational pot should be grown, sold and taxed in the state.

The Amendment 64 Task Force, comprised of government regulators, pot advocates and law enforcement officials, was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to make recommendations on how to implement the state constitutional amendment passed by voters last fall that legalized recreational pot use by adults, age 21 and older.

Now the task force's 165-page report goes to the governor and state legislature, which will craft laws on the regulation of weed.

Ultimately, task force leaders said the legislature will have to go back to voters for approval of sales and excise tax rates for marijuana.

The task force agreed there needs to be a special marijuana sales tax, but left it up to the legislature to set the taxation rate.

Task Force Co-Chair Jack Finlaw, the governor’s chief legal counsel, said a task force working group recommended a 25 percent sales tax. But some members were concerned that imposing high a tax would make legal marijuana too costly, perpetuating the underground market for illicit pot.

A 10-member joint Senate-House committee will hold its first meeting Friday on implementation of Amendment 64. Committee Vice Chairwoman Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said she thinks the committee can hammer out a bill in two to three weeks.

The goal is to take a marijuana taxation measure to voters in November, Finlaw said. But if special sales and excise taxes for marijuana is not approved by voters, then recreational pot sales will begin on Jan. 1, 2014, subject only to existing state and local sales taxes, Finlaw said.

 Finlaw said the task force members agreed on most regulatory issues, including the need to protect juveniles from marijuana products.

One recommendation is that, in a home where people under age 21 live, adult residents would have to secure marijuana plants in an "enclosed, locked space," Finlaw said. People without children could simply lock their home, but they would have to prevent underage visitors from accessing their pot grow.

The task force also recommended that marijuana products, including edibles, be sold in child-proof packaging. Another recommendation is for package labeling stating a product's level of THC, the drug's psychoactive ingredient, and whether it contains pesticides, herbicides or fungicides,

However, Finlaw said the panel could not agree on the definition of "open and public consumption," which is key because Amendment 65 says marijuana cannot be consumed "openly and publicly."

"For example, I think about half the task force thought that people should be allowed to smoke marijuana on their front or back porch and the other half thought that maybe they should not be able to do that," Finlaw said.

"I think there needs to be a distinction between smoking and (pot) edibles," Finlaw said.

"I think if you're sitting, for example, on your front porch and smoking a joint, and smoking is wafting into the street, I think an argument can be made that that's open and public consumption," he said. "If you're sitting on your front porch having brownies with a glass of milk and those brownies happen to be a (marijuana) infused product, if the public can't determine that you're consuming marijuana maybe it would not be open and public consumption."

The task force recommends that the legislature amend the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act to include prohibitions on smoking marijuana in all public places where tobacco smoke is not allowed. That law has an exemption for cigar bars, but the task force recommends that the exemption not be extended to marijuana smoking.

Given the Clean Indoor Air Act and other panel recommendations, Finlaw said: "I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a place, other than a private residence, where smoking (marijuana) could occur."

Finlaw said the task force recommendations deferred to local governments on whether to allow or ban commercial establishments, including retail pot shops, growing operations and social clubs where people could smoke pot together. Amendment 64 allows local governments to ban those commercial enterprises.

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