Patrick Malone, Fort Collins Coloradoan
December 10. 2012 - FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday signed a declaration formalizing the voter-approved amendment that makes it legal for those 21 and older to use marijuana.
On Election Day, voters approved Amendment 64 which called on the state to regulate marijuana like alcohol. The amendment allows for limited use, possession and cultivation of marijuana.
"This is a truly historic day," said Mason Tvert, co-director of the campaign to pass the measure. "From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana."
He applauded the governor's prompt declaration.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed the measure, had until Jan. 5 to sign the executive order, but he did so just four days after Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler certified the Nov. 6 election results in which 55 percent of voters statewide embraced legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
"Voters were loud and clear on Election Day," the governor said. "We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64."
Adults over 21 in Colorado may now possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or six plants.
The sale of marijuana and its consumption in public remain illegal. The Colorado Legislature plans to tackle assorted issues around the legalization of marijuana during the upcoming legislative session, including how to tax it, establishing a regulatory framework for its distribution, changing statutes to reflect the newly allowed practices involving marijuana and providing for legal means to produce industrial hemp.
Hickenlooper also issued an executive order Monday forming the 24-member Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64. Members will include lawmakers and stakeholders representing the interests of prosecutors, defense lawyers, the medical marijuana industry, backers of Amendment 64, the addiction treatment community, public health institutions, cities, counties, "a representative of marijuana consumers," employers and employees, among others.
Its meetings will be public, and the targeted date for its recommendations to the governor is Feb. 28.
"The Task Force shall respect the will of the voters of Colorado and shall not engage in a debate of the merits of marijuana legalization or Amendment 64," the executive order said.
Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder seeking guidance about how the federal government intends to enforce its laws, which still view marijuana as illegal, in Colorado after voters legalized marijuana. The federal government has not responded, according to the governor's office.
So far the federal government has offered little guidance beyond stating that marijuana remains illegal and that the controlled Substances Act will be enforced. Of special concern for state regulators is how to protect state employees who violate federal drug law by complying with state marijuana laws.
"As we move forward now with implementation of Amendment 64, we will try to maintain as much flexibility as possible to accommodate the federal government's position on the amendment," Hickenlooper said.
Last week, marijuana possession became legal in Washington state. Washington voters also legalize the recreational use of marijuana last month.