“Spark the Discussion” is a monthly Legal Connection column highlighting the hottest trends in the emerging field of marijuana law. This column is brought to you by Vicente Sederberg, LLC, the country’s first national medical marijuana law firm.
By Joshua Kappel, Esq.
On Election Day, the voters of Colorado made history with the passage of Amendment 64—the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012.
Amendment 64, which received 55% of the vote, legalizes marijuana under Colorado law for adults over the age of 21. Specifically, it removes all civil and criminal penalties under Colorado law for the limited possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana by adults over the age of 21. This measure also requires the Colorado Department of Revenue to create a regulatory system for the production and distribution of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
The passage of Amendment 64 made waves across the world and made headlines from England to India. Just this week, a handful of Latin America leaders called for a review of international drug policy in light of these measurers passing. Politically, the 10 point passage of Amendment 64 has prompted other states to consider similar measures, and has even spurred bi-partisan action by Colorado’s congressional delegation to exempt states’ marijuana laws from the federal Controlled Substance Act.
This historic victory also made waves here in Colorado. Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s responded with his now infamous comments, telling voters not to “break out the Cheetos” yet because marijuana remains illegal federally. The Governor’s comments hinted at a lack of interest in fighting on behalf of Colorado voters and led many to wonder what, if any, effect Amendment 64 will have here at home.
The state vs. federal nature of this law change will continue to be of great interest to both legal scholars and voters. A full analysis of this issue will be saved for another post, but to be clear, the federal government cannot force our state to criminalize anyone – including those who use or produce marijuana.
The removal of criminal penalties for adults using, possessing and cultivating marijuana goes into effect once the election is certified (probably sometime around January 6th), although retail stores won’t be able to open until late 2013 or early 2014.
We still have time before the measure goes into effect, but already, Amendment 64 is making ripples in our communities. This week both the Boulder District Attorney and the Denver District Attorney announced they will dismiss all marijuana charges related to actions that would have been protected by Amendment 64. In the interest of justice, we hope more District Attorneys follow suit. According to long standing Colorado law, a change in a criminal law that reduces a sentence or eliminates the violation all together should apply retroactively in the interest of justice to all convictions not yet final. C.R.S. § 18-1-410(1)(f); Colo. Crim. P. Rule 35; People v. Thomas, 185 Colo. 395 (1974). Even if a stubborn district attorney was lucky enough to convict an adult for possessing marijuana now, the case should be dismissed by the trial judge or on appeal once Amendment 64 goes into effect.
Although Amendment 64 is not yet in effect, for the adults currently caught in the system for marijuana offenses, the ripples of last Tuesday are already being felt.