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Colorado draws up rules for legal pot

Panel believes ‘very strict regulatory framework’ will ease feds’ concerns

DENVER — A Colorado marijuana task force presented its proposed regulations to the state Legislature on Wednesday that the group's chairman says should alleviate the federal government's concerns about allowing states to legalize adult recreational marijuana.

Jack Finlaw, co-chairman of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, said the 165-page report includes recommendations on regulations, fees, taxes and safeguards that cover an exhaustive host of issues.

"I think the federal government needs to know that we are endorsing a very rigid, very strict regulatory framework," said Mr. Finlaw at a news conference. "I believe if we can convince [them] that we are able to do all of that, they'll take the same attitude toward adult use recreational marijuana that they have toward medical marijuana."

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has yet to announce whether he will permit Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana after voters in both states passed ballot measures in November allowing the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Given the lack of federal input, both states are proceeding with creating a regulatory framework for the cultivation, distribution and sale of marijuana, modeled on the rules now governing the sale of liquor and tobacco.

The Colorado Legislature has formed a joint committee charged with reviewing the task force's report and passing marijuana regulations. Colorado already has laws and rules in place governing the cultivation, distribution and sale of medical marijuana.

The task force's 58 recommendations include requiring companies to have common ownership "from seed to sale," and allowing only Colorado residents to grow, process and sell marijuana. At the same time, the report recommends allowing out-of-state visitors to purchase marijuana, known as "marijuana tourism."

The report also calls for childproof packaging on all types of marijuana sold, and warning labels that disclose the content of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, as well as a ban on mass-market advertising that could reach those not yet 21.

Mr. Finlaw said the task force, which spent two months drawing up the proposed regulations, struggled with the issue of whether to allow open and public consumption of marijuana, either through smoking or with marijuana edibles like brownies.

"I think half of the task force thought people should be able to smoke marijuana on their front or back porch, and the other half thought that maybe they should not be able to do that," said Mr. Finlaw, who also serves as legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. "Hopefully an agreement can be reached during the legislative process."

One subject on which Colorado and Washington have diverged is on the amount of the marijuana tax. Washington is considering a 75 percent total excise tax, while Colorado's Amendment 64 calls for a 15 percent excise tax. The Colorado task force also has endorsed a separate marijuana sales tax, although the report has no firm recommendation on how much.

Set the tax too high, and "a black market could persist," Mr. Finlaw said.

The report leaves questions such as whether to allow marijuana social clubs for city and county governments to decide. The Denver City Council is now considering whether to permit licensing for such clubs.

In Washington, the state's Liquor Control Board is developing rules for adult recreational-marijuana use.

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