Marijuana for everyone… well, not quite

In November 2012, Colorado voters elected to abolish the long-standing prohibition against the recreational use of marijuana. Amendment 64 legalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, and the cultivation of up to six plants, for those 21 years and older. While it seems simple, the new law is not free from additional regulations and lawmakers are grappling with how to implement its provisions.

Prior to Amendment 64's passage, Colorado state law criminalized the possession of marijuana with the exception of authorized medicinal users. While medical authorization is no longer required, marijuana still may not be smoked in public and users may not drive under its influence. Moreover, some municipalities have enacted local provisions banning the sale of marijuana within their jurisdictions.

Marijuana retail stores will not be open until 2014 and Colorado lawmakers have a short period of time to decide how the state will regulate the production, processing and sale of weed. Other considerations facing government officials include consumer safety, employer's rights, licensing and taxation. And they have only until
July 1, 2013, to implement new regulations.

Federal law

Despite the will of Colorado voters, the possession and sale of marijuana remains a federal crime. President Obama, though, has said that the federal government will not expend resources going after marijuana users in states that have legalized its use. However, use is one thing and retail production and sale is quite another. It is unclear how the feds feel about marijuana sales in legalization states.

Don't press your luck

While Colorado voters between 18 and 21 had the right to vote for legalization, their vote did not secure their right to possess it. Marijuana possession and sale remains illegal for all under 21, similar to state alcohol provisions. While future campaigns may successfully lower the age limit, legalization proponents know this is a gradual process and are cautious to push harder than society is ready.

Colorado borders seven other states, only two of which even permit medical marijuana. All seven prohibit recreational use and states like Nebraska and Wyoming have openly stated that marijuana purchased legally in another state is still illegal within their borders. Nevertheless, neighboring state officials are concerned about the spillover from Colorado retail stores once mass production and sales are up and running. It remains unclear how the feds will address this issue.

Despite Amendment 64's ample victory, many details must still be ironed out. What is certain however is that Colorado will serve as a model to the rest of the nation for how to effectively implement recreational marijuana regulations. Should Colorado successfully do so, maybe other states will follow suit.

While Colorado's legislature and law enforcement agencies sort through the details of Amendment 64, you may still end up on the wrong side of the law when it comes to marijuana. If you do, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will help sort through the charges and build a defense strategy that fits your specific situation.