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Colorado's Marijuana Regulations Strive to Balance Freedom, Responsibility

  • Brian Padden

When the U.S. state of Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational purposes this year, it also imposed tighter restrictions and regulations on the drug, compared to those it has on tobacco and alcohol.

Amendment 64, the Colorado law that legalized the sale and possession of marijuana for personal use, is groundbreaking.

It creates for the first time an overarching regulatory structure on the industry and imposes strict limits on usage.

The regulations are based on three guiding principles, says Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue.

“We want to keep it out of the hands of kids. We want to keep it out of the hands of criminals and we want to keep it out of the hands of people who are not supposed to have it, so people from other states. So we don't want it leaving our state," said Brohl.

Colorado requires growers to register and tag with electronic chips all plants to ensure that marijuana is legally produced. And all products must be tested for drug potency and for harmful mold or pesticides.

Retail marijuana stores must check IDs to ensure customers are over 21-years-old. There is no smoking of the drug allowed where it is sold or in any public areas. So visitors won't find any pot bars or cannabis clubs open to the public.

Lieutenant Matt Murray with the Denver Police Department says officers still arrest people for driving while intoxicated but it is not as simple as it was in the past.

“Before if you smelled marijuana when you stopped a car, that was reasonable suspicion to develop probable cause to make a search. Well not anymore. So it actually makes our jobs somewhat more complicated," said Murray.

The law defines marijuana intoxication as five or more nanograms of THC - the active ingredient in marijuana - in a person’s blood stream. But marijuana advocates point out that unlike alcohol, THC can stay in the blood for weeks.

Denver airport officials say no added security is needed to screen for passengers who may be trying to carry marijuana out of Colorado. But police are reporting a rise in marijuana leaving the state by land.

“States around us are dealing with huge amounts of marijuana crossing the border because marijuana in Colorado that might cost $1,500 is worth $5,000 or $7,000 in New York City," said Murray.

Murray says while regulation and interdiction efforts cannot stop all illegal activities, so far there has not been any significant rise or drop in crime since marijuana became legal.