Marijuana

State must apply all it's already learned

The Denver Post has reported that the state is drafting new regulations for medical marijuana growers and retailers, and one of the changes is the deletion of a requirement that all such businesses have video-surveillance systems into which state auditors could tap, via the Internet.

That was an expense for the businesses, but - surprise! - the state surveillance never happened.

What is perhaps not so surprising is that now that recreational marijuana use and possession have been legalized, the market for "medical" marijuana has shrunk dramatically and that industry has shed many of the problems involved with being the only legal way to obtain pot. Cancer and glaucoma patients don't need to be surveilled. The pretense of chronic pain is no longer necessary for marijuana users, although the problem remains severe with other legal medications used recreationally.

Now a task force is working on guidelines for the recreational-marijuana industry. According to the Post, "That task force has divided into five subgroups to discuss issues related to criminal law, social concerns, employment relationships and others. Some of those subgroups have now divided into sub-subgroups to further study the matter."

With its deadline for broad recommendations only a month away, the task force already has urged Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the state's congressional delegation to work to resolve conflicts that prevent banks from working with marijuana businesses. The proceeds of marijuana sales are no longer money to be laundered but income to be accounted for and taxed.

The much larger issue is that possession, use and cultivation of marijuana are still against federal law. Prosecuting recreational use of marijuana is not a high priority for the Obama administration, which, if it wants to wage a war on drugs, has much larger targets. That policy of not bothering with pot has helped Colorado's medical marijuana industry flourish, but it leaves the state in a quandary when it comes to regulating an industry that remains technically illegal. Neither Colorado nor the administration have any interest in a coffer-draining states-rights court case over this topic, but a line does exist which Colorado would be wise not to cross.

The process of figuring out how to preserve public safety and a broad list of competing rights isn't one that will be completed quickly, but everyone involved - including law enforcement personnel - need to know what's allowed and what's out of bounds. Among other considerations, economic development is at stake. Employers must not be forced to accommodate workers who are recreationally impaired. Laws related to alcohol and prescription drugs can help, in separate ways, but Colorado is out in front on marijuana. Everyone can hope that the regulations will be less cumbersome and more effective than those applied to medical marijuana. They must be clear and easy to understand. They must be effective. Violations must be prosecutable, in a way that avoids harassment while safeguarding public interests.

If Coloradans don't want "the stoner state" to become the state's defining monicker - and they definitely shouldn't, because there's a whole lot more going on here - the state needs to get this right, in a way it didn't with medical marijuana.