Marijuana Legalization: Colorado Governor Signs New Laws Despite His Own Opposition to Them


On Tuesday, Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law several measures that will regulate the growing, selling, and taxation of recreational marijuana in the state. This from someone who previously said, “Colorado is known for many great things, marijuana should not be one of them.” 

Last year voters in Colorado approved the sale of recreational marijuana in a constitutional amendment. The measures include a limitation on marijuana levels when driving and a bill that calls for a referendum in November on imposing taxes on marijuana sales.

While the move represents a significant step by Colorado lawmakers towards instituting a legal system for dispensing marijuana, there will still no doubt be further obstacles ahead in the campaign to decriminalize the drug. Hickenlooper, however, should be commended for listening to the will of voters.

Hickenlooper himself opposed the ballot initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana which passed last November, but, as Nicole Flatow of Think Progress points out, on Tuesday he showed his “willingness to implement the will of the voters” despite his own views. Which is something politicians are not always willing to do. The ballot initiative got rid of criminal punishment for people over 21 who grow up to six marijuana plants or who possess less than an ounce of it. People will also be able to buy marijuana at retail outlets that are set to open at the beginning of next year. Noting that “recreational marijuana is really a completely new entity,” Hickenlooper said that the set of laws represented a good first step in terms of regulating the drug.

Under the new laws, there will be limits on who can obtain a marijuana license, with many law enforcement officers and people with a criminal history which indicates that “he or she is not of good moral character,” among those who will be prohibited from obtaining one. Marijuana dispensaries will also be subject to restrictions on where they can be located, what times they can be open, and how many there can be. Similar to other states, they will be prohibited from located within 1,000 feet of schools, drug treatment facilities, or child-care facilities. Furthermore, local jurisdictions will also be allowed to ban dispensaries outright.

Non-Colorado residents will be limited to one quarter of an ounce per transaction, and people driving in Colorado will be limited to a blood-level of 5 nanograms. People who are charged with driving under the influence, however, will reportedly have the chance to disprove the DUI allegation and show that their driving was not impaired. Furthermore, if voters agree in the referendum in November, recreational marijuana sales will be subject to a 15% excise tax, with the revenue collected from this reportedly “marked for school construction.”

In addition, there will also be a new sales tax of 10% on top of the existing state and local sales taxes. So Hickenlooper will not just be honouring the will of voters, but his government will also be able to make some money off doing so.

Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law and Hickenlooper says he expects that the federal government will soon respond to the Colorado’s legalization of the drug, but is not sure when it will happen. “We think that it will be relatively soon. We are optimistic that they are going to be a little more specific in their approach on this issue.” Referring to the lack of a federal response to date, he also made light of the recent scandals facing the U.S. Department of Justice, saying, “they’ve been kind of busy.”

The new measures signed into law by Hickenlooper are a significant and commendable development given that they show that he is willing to listen to the will of voters despite his own opposition to the legalization of marijuana. They represent an important first step towards seeing how the legalization of marijuana will actually work in the state.

The legalization of marijuana use and the new laws, however, do not mean that everyone in Colorado will soon be following Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s advice and smoking weed everyday or living their lives like Afroman: