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Everyone knows that Colorado has been a leader in the movement to legalize marijuana. After our state and Washington voted in favor of recreational marijuana use a few years ago, four more states followed suit in the November election. It is proof of what the polls have been saying for a while now – more and more people across the country are in favor of legalization.
So why is Colorado looking to pass laws that limit our ability to grow marijuana?
While marijuana is legal in Colorado, there are still some restrictions regarding growth and possession. Currently, if you want to grow marijuana in your house for personal use, you will not be criminalized under Colorado law. In some situations, law enforcement could find up to 99 plants on your property designed to be used for medical purposes and you could not be accused of doing anything wrong.
In a few months, however, this number could be drastically reduced.
HB1220 was brought to the Colorado House in early March. The sponsors of the bill, who belong to both political parties, aim to cut down on “organized crime” within the marijuana industry by limiting the amount of marijuana that is grown legally but sold illegally – often referred to as the “gray market.”
Recreational users would be limited to 12 plants, and medical patients or caregivers would be limited to 16. First-time offenders who are found with over 30 plants could be charged with a felony.
HB1220 passed with a pretty large majority in the House, and is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The bill was introduced alongside HB1221. It would create a $6 million-a-year program that would aim to find and penalize growers who were operating in the “gray market,” as well as the “black market” of actually growing marijuana illegally. The $6 million will come from the funds raised by taxing legal marijuana.
HB1221 is also awaiting a vote in the Senate.
We’ve detailed in past blog posts how the legal marijuana industry is not perfect. White collar crimes within the industry have made headlines, and trafficking to other states has also led some states to file lawsuits against Colorado.
These incidents may have had a hand in lawmakers deciding to create HB1220 and HB1221, but there is a bigger dark cloud looming over Colorado’s legal marijuana industry as a whole. A dark cloud that is coming directly from the White House.
Our former President’s views on marijuana lined up with the way that most citizens in this country look at the drug. Overall, the President understood that the decades-long sentences for nonviolent drug crime offenders did more harm than good, and as a result he pardoned hundreds of people who were facing life in jail for trafficking and other drug charges.
When states began to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, the federal prohibition did not bother Obama. His administration allowed the Department of Justice to focus their efforts on other issues, and let the states operate based on state-level legislature.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, seems unlikely to follow in Obama’s footsteps.
It’s no secret that Sessions is not a fan of legal marijuana. He has been quoted saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He has suggested that legal marijuana could lead to increased violence. As the Attorney General of Alabama, he advocated for the death penalty as a punishment for large-scale drug trafficking offenders.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Currently, a federal rider that prohibits the DEA from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where marijuana use is legal limits the DEA. However, this rider needs to be reapproved every year, and it is up to Jeff Sessions to do so.
John Hudak is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies marijuana policy. He has been quoted as saying that reversing the rider and current federal policy on marijuana enforcement “is the worst-case scenario for the marijuana industry.”
With Sessions, the future of legal marijuana feels bleak.
So far, there has been no concrete action taken to seriously threaten Colorado or other states’ marijuana laws. Even without any action, though, federal prohibitions on marijuana have severely limited many citizens from getting access to marijuana, even if their state has legalized its use for recreational or medicinal purposes.
Marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug in federal law, citing that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” To put things in perspective, cocaine and methamphetamine are actually considered less serious, Schedule II drugs. Just think about that for a minute.
While no one can predict exactly what is going to happen, it is fair to say that the marijuana industry is changing at both the state and federal levels. If you are charged with a drug crime, it is vital that you have a Colorado lawyer on your side.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.