Colorado pot bill gets new limits after federal warning
May 2, 2011
DENVER – Colorado lawmakers are planning new limits on marijuana growing operations following a federal warning that it’s still a violation of federal law to grow and possess the drug.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Monday that would change rules for how pot can be cultivated and sold. Changes included reducing the number of plants that can be grown and laws banning felons from working in the industry. It also would allow testing of plants to determine dosages.
Last week, the top federal prosecutor in Colorado sent a letter to legislators saying pot regulations could put state employees at risk of federal prosecution.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said the letter from John Walsh, the top federal prosecutor in Colorado, shows the federal government is running out of patience with Colorado and other states that have hundreds of dispensaries and tens of thousands of medical marijuana users.
He said the government previously stated that it would not make it a priority to go after terminally-ill people using marijuana. However, the proliferation of marijuana patients has forced the federal government to take a closer look at the industry.
“People need to be on notice that nothing you do, nothing the state does insulates them” from federal prosecution, Raynes told the committee.
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He said proposed limits on the number of plants being grown have “no basis in fact,” making the point that one plant is too many, according to federal law.
Michael Dougherty of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office said that even the proposed restrictions don’t go far enough.
“We’re still operating in clear violation of federal law. The federal government is taking a new look at this. This letter is a clear message to the legislature and people of Colorado that violation of federal law won’t be tolerated.”
Lawmakers from both parties have previously said they intend to move ahead with this bill, which addresses who can work at dispensaries and changes other regulations. The proposal was up for review before the federal warning.
The letter from Walsh closely resembled warnings sent by federal prosecutors in California, Washington and Montana – which are among 15 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The notification warns that states shouldn’t pass bills that appear to authorize medical marijuana businesses because the drug is still illegal under federal law.
Colorado’s marijuana regulations – set to take effect this summer – mandate who can register to sell or grow the drug. The rules also give state regulators seed-to-sale tracking of the drug.
The bill currently would add new regulations for makers of cannabis-infused food, such as pot brownies, among other changes.
Walsh told Colorado officials that federal prosecutors do not intend to go after “seriously ill individuals who use marijuana.” However, Walsh said, the federal government won’t ignore the manufacture and distribution of pot, even if such activities are permitted under state law.
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman rejected the federal warning, saying “it’s just the federal government being clumsy and heavy-handed.”
House Bill 1043: http://goo.gl/U0s4J