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Colorado legislature passes laws regulating legal pot

Colorado legislature passes laws regulating legal pot
Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 2:35am

Colorado's state legislature passed a pair of measures Wednesday regulating the sale of legal marijuana, becoming the first state to pass bills dictating how the now-legal drug will be taxed and sold in stores.

The votes come roughly six months after voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the recreational use of marijuana in the state. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order in December to officially legalize the personal use and limited growing of marijuana for those 21 or older.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was expected to sign the new laws passed Wednesday. They included House Bill 1318, which imposes a 10% tax on the sale of retail marijuana and related products in a store. The measure specified the 10% tax was in addition to a 2.9% state sales tax. An additional excise tax of 15% was also included in the bill for sales of unprocessed marijuana to retail stores.

The new taxes, which will help fund the new marijuana regulatory structure in the state, will be subject to a ballot referendum.

A second measure passed Wednesday delineated how marijuana will be sold legally in the state. Licenses for retail stores will only be given to Colorado residents, and in the initial three months of the law will only be distributed to current operators of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Owners of stores selling marijuana must have been Colorado residents for at least two years prior to applying for a license, and their employees must also live in the state, according to the law.

Non-residents will still be permitted to purchase marijuana in the state, but only a fourth of an ounce at a time.

Marijuana mixed with nicotine and alcohol prior to sale is prohibited, and the product must be placed in a "sealed nontransparent container at the point of sale," according to the legislative text.

Earlier this week Colorado lawmakers passed legislation setting a legal limit for driving under the influence of marijuana. Drivers with 5 nanograms or more of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in one milliliter of blood would be in violation of the law. THC is the main psychoactive element in cannabis.

In November, voters in both Colorado and Washington state approved ballot measures allowing for the personal, recreational use of marijuana. Nearly 20 other states permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

The new laws put Colorado and Washington at odds with the federal government, which classifies marijuana as an illegal substance.

In a statement Wednesday, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said that while he disagreed with the overarching amendment allowing legal use of marijuana in the state, he supported the legislature's work in enacting regulations on its sale.

"It is difficult to do a good job of implementing bad public policy," he said. "However, given that the voters directed the Legislature to implement Amendment 64, and given that the marijuana industry had an aggressive and well financed lobbying effort, I believe the Legislature did a credible job of implementing most of the Marijuana Task Force's recommendations."

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