The 2012 election will go down in history. Not only will it be remembered for the close race between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, it will stand out as the year two states – Colorado and Washington – passed initiatives to “decriminalize” the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana. In 2006, a similar measure failed to pass in Colorado. But, with support from legal rights advocates and major bill proponents like Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a 2012 voter referendum resulted in the passage of Amendment 64.

What the law will do

Contrary to what some might believe, Amendment 64 doesn’t promote a Woodstock-esque free-for-all environment for drug use. The law does allow for the non-criminalpossession of small amounts of marijuana intended for personal use. In addition, individuals can grow up to six plants at home for personal consumption. The law does not allow for public use of marijuana or use by parties under the age of 21. The Department of Health will be formulating regulations for the sale of personal use marijuana. This will also require the legislature to modify present laws on the books to allow for small quantity sales, which are presently classified as a felony.

What the law won’t do

Amendment 64 doesn’t give carte blanche permission for large-scale marijuana cultivation to take place throughout the state. It is unclear how the Department of Health and the Legislature will fashion laws and regulations for the large-scale production and distribution of personal use amounts of marijuana. Some believe the present medical marijuana model will be used.

The new law also won’t be applied retroactively to wipe the proverbial slate clean. This means that individuals who have been convicted of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana will not see their prior convictions overturned. These criminal histories will remain.

Where the state goes from here

While Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has – per state law – certified Amendment 64 as part of the state’s constitution, the law isn’t “up and running” just yet. It will likely take many months for the state to examine the myriad of issues associated with marijuana decriminalization, including:

  • Criteria for licensure to sell,
  • Criteria for large-scale cultivation,
  • Regulatory measures to ensure consumer safety, and
  • Redefining occupational safety and health laws to account for unique safety issues that might arise in “head shops” that distribute or farms that grow cannabis.

With the law still in its infancy, it is anticipated there will be significant debate on how to make Amendment 64 work. To add to the confusion, marijuana is still considered illegal under federal law. It is important to note Amendment 64 only legalizes small amounts of marijuana for personal use. It is expected this law will be strictly enforced. Knowing what the law allows and doesn’t legalize is critical. If you or a loved one is facing a Colorado marijuana charge, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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