Federal government won’t interfere with Colorado marijuana legalization

Colorado made history last year when voters chose to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. While many states have allowed residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, Colorado and Washington are the only two to permit residents to use marijuana recreationally.

Colorado's decision was not without controversy. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, many worried that people who were adhering to state law could still be prosecuted for federal drug offenses. The federal government recently put this concern to rest, however, when it announced that it would not target individuals who buy, sell or grow marijuana in accordance with state law.

In making the announcement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder cautioned that the federal government's attitude could change if states prove incapable of regulating the marijuana industry on their own. Holder said that the Justice Department planned to take a "trust but verify" approach toward dealing with legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

This is not to say that the federal government will completely ignore marijuana offenses in states that have some form of legalization. Instead, federal law enforcement agencies will focus on eight high-priority areas. They are:

  • Sales of marijuana to minors.
  • Marijuana enterprises that direct revenue to gangs, cartels or other criminal organizations.
  • Transporting marijuana into states where it is not legal.
  • Seemingly legitimate marijuana enterprises that provide cover for illegal drug trafficking or other crimes.
  • Violence linked to the cultivation or distribution of marijuana.
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana.
  • Growing marijuana on public land.
  • Using or possessing marijuana on federal property.

Colorado marijuana regulations

In addition to these eight target areas, Coloradans can face prosecution by state authorities if they fail to comply with the terms of the state's legalization scheme.

With regard to selling marijuana, retail businesses will be able to apply for licenses starting on October 1, 2013. For the first nine months, licenses will only be granted to existing medical marijuana facilities. In addition, during the first nine months of 2014, most retail outlets will only be allowed to sell marijuana that they have grown in a commonly-owned facility.

Stores may not allow customers to consume marijuana on the premises. They will also be required to package marijuana in opaque, child-resistant containers.

Adults over age 21 will be permitted to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana at a time, and may not possess more than one ounce at any time. Individuals who prefer to grow their own marijuana will be permitted to have up to six plants, although only three can be in the flowering stage at any given time.

In addition, individuals can be charged with DUI if they are caught driving with their ability impaired by marijuana.

Anybody who runs afoul of these regulations can face criminal prosecution. If this happens, it is advisable to consult with an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney who can help navigate this new legal landscape.