Pubdate: Mon, 29 Oct 2012
Source: Aspen Times, The  (CO)
Copyright: 2012 Aspen Times
Author: Janet Urquhart


Local business owners ponder implications of Amendment 64

ASPEN -- While Colorado voters mull the outright legalization of
marijuana when they head to the polls next week, some local business
owners are taking a particularly keen interest in the ramifications of
Amendment 64.

They're already selling marijuana of the medical variety. Amendment
64, which would let adults possess limited quantities of pot and buy
it from state-regulated outlets, could be a game changer in many respects.

"I don't really know what's going to happen. I don't think anybody
does," said Jordan Lewis, owner of Silverpeak Apothecary in downtown

Lewis' dispensary was among a number of such establishments that
opened in Aspen and around the Roaring Fork Valley during a medical
marijuana boom in 2009. Since then, some shops have closed, and those
that remain continue to work through the regulatory hurdles spawned by
the burgeoning industry.

"I could not have imagined how much work it would be to get this far,"
Lewis said. "It has not been easy."

Today, medical marijuana operators might be in the best position to
sell what's been dubbed recreational pot if Amendment 64 passes. They
have the required security measures in place, they're licensed or in
the process of becoming so (an effort that includes criminal
background checks), and they've either arranged suppliers to grow the
plants or taken that on, as well, complying with yet another set of

Amendment 64 would give medical marijuana purveyors a break on the
license application fee if they choose to move into the recreational
marijuana business, as they've already paid once, but the enterprises
must be completely separate. A medical dispensary cannot sell pot to
anyone who's not a registered marijuana patient, nor can it purchase
marijuana from a source that isn't authorized under the state's
medical marijuana code. Medical and recreational marijuana could not
be sold under the same roof.

However, medical marijuana sales would be exempt from the excise tax
of as much as 15 percent that would be imposed on recreational
marijuana -- a cost pot shops would logically pass on to consumers.
The amendment requires the first $40 million in revenues raised
annually to go into a public school construction-assistance fund.

Opponents of the marijuana measure, as well as some in the medical pot
industry who philosophically support the legalization move, wonder if
the state will face even closer federal scrutiny if Amendment 64 passes.

"I'm afraid, because it's still against federal law, that we'd only be
asking for trouble," said one area dispensary owner, who asked not be

Another declined to comment on 64 at all.

While Colorado dispensaries that operated within 1,000 feet of a
school were directed by the feds to shut down, there has been no
heavy-handed crackdown on the industry as a whole in Colorado.

Lauren Maytin, an Aspen defense attorney who advocates legalization of
pot for adults and represents a number of clients on the medical side
of the business in the Roaring Fork Valley and around the state, said
she believes medical marijuana will have a place even if Amendment 64

For one thing, registered patients have not been a target of federal
drug agents, she noted.

"I personally think that a medical patient is better off remaining a
medical patient any way you cut it," Maytin said. "We've really seen a
largely hands-off approach for patients."

If pot is readily accessible at state-sanctioned stores, though, some
purveyors of medical marijuana wonder if a viable niche market for
their goods will continue to exist. They're wondering whether they
should stay the course if 64 passes or switch to selling recreational
marijuana. The latter, however, might garner a harsher level of
scrutiny and greater threat of arrest and prosecution because the
possession and sale of pot remain federal crimes.

Maytin said many of her clients aren't sure where they stand in the
Amendment 64 debate as a result.

Having already jumped through the hoops of getting established,
though, expanding under 64 is an attractive option, said the
dispensary owner who asked not to be named.

"If it did go through, we would definitely be in the right place at
the right time," he said.

Lewis is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"What's going to happen if it does pass is a wild card," he said. "It
could help my business. It could destroy my business."

What it won't do is put pot shops on every corner the day after the
Nov. 6 election.

The amendment calls for the adoption of state regulations for the
recreational marijuana industry by July 1 2013. The Legislature is to
enact the excise tax and plan for its collection by Jan. 1, 2017.

"It's not going to be, 'Oh my God -- we have a new business.'
It's going to be, 'Oh my God -- we have a new business to
regulate,'" Maytin said.

Proponents compare the legalization of marijuana to the end of
Prohibition. On a nationwide level, such a move would bring an end to
the black-market pot industry, persecution of users and the spending
of millions on at least one segment of the drug war. Allowing the
cultivation of hemp, a less potent form of the plant that has
manufacturing uses ranging from fabrics to soap, could prove an
agricultural boon, they further argue. Amendment 64 allows for the
growing of hemp.

Opponents don't want Colorado to be the first to flout federal drug
laws or to gain a reputation as the place to get high with something
other than elevation. It could have company, though; Oregon and
Washington both have legalization measures on the ballot, as well.

Others have voiced fears that Amendment 64 will ultimately make pot
more accessible to underage consumers, though buyers must be at least
21 years old, and sales would be regulated. Individuals would have to
show proof of their age to make a purchase, and the amendment's
language makes it clear that providing marijuana to an underage person
is illegal.

Lewis said he supports Amendment 64 for all of the pro-legalization
arguments despite the uncertainties it poses for his dispensary.

"My business might go down the drain, but I'm still going to vote for
it," he said.


Amendment 64 provisions

* Adult possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would be legal.
Consumption also would be legal, but the amendment does not permit
public consumption.

* The growing of as many as six plants, with no more than three being
mature, flowering plants at any one time, would be permitted, provided
the plants are in an enclosed, locked space. The plants cannot be sold.

* Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain

* An individual jurisdiction (a city or county, for example) may
prohibit any aspect of the recreational marijuana business either
through adoption of an ordinance or by a public vote.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt