What Colorado will look like with legal marijuana became significantly clearer Thursday when the state task force proposing rules for that new world finished its work.
Under proposals endorsed by the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, recreational marijuana in Colorado would be heavily taxed. It would be grown only indoors. It would not be allowed to be smoked at bars, restaurants or even social clubs.
It could be sold to people visiting from out of state, though. It could be given away to adults an ounce at a time but not in pot-for-donation swaps. Its sale would be watched over by a small army of state regulators.
During 80 days of poking and pulling at roughly 100 issues affected by marijuana legalization, the task force endorsed dozens of new policies on such topics as criminal enforcement, taxes, child protection and product labeling. Taken together, the recommendations represent a comprehensive set of ideas to regulate a recreational-marijuana regime unlike any in history.
The recommendations will now be put to state lawmakers, who will fashion them into a bill and then debate the issues anew.
"The first thing I have to say is, 'Thank you,' " Gov. John Hickenlooper told task-force members Thursday during a visit to their meeting.
Hardly a benedictory session, Thursday's meeting was more of a last-second cram for the task force to get through its work. During a five-hour hearing, the task force considered proposals on funding, changes to criminal laws and labeling of serving sizes in marijuana-infused goodies.
Tax discussions, particularly, stood out.
The task force recommended that Colorado lawmakers refer to voters two ballot measures on marijuana taxes. One would impose a 15 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana — a rate that could increase over time — that stores would have to pay at the wholesale level. The other would create a special marijuana sales tax that customers would pay. Though the task force did not endorse a specific amount for the sales tax, it gave a 25 percent rate as an example.
Recreational marijuana would also be subject to standard state and local sales taxes.
The taxes — if the legislature puts them before voters and they are approved — could add several dollars to the average pot purchase of one-eighth of an ounce.
Supporters of the taxing proposals, including Department of Revenue Executive Director Barbara Brohl, said the money is needed to regulate marijuana stores. Brohl, whose department oversees medical-marijuana businesses, said a lack of money has hindered regulation of that industry.
"The funding model just didn't work," Brohl said. "And as a result, the division wasn't able to perform the regulatory and oversight functions it was created to do."
Opponents of the taxing proposals said that imposing too high of a rate will keep marijuana sellers in the black market.
The task force's work rubbed some marijuana advocates the wrong way.
"I feel like so much time has been spent on flat-earth concerns that we've missed the boat to the new world," said medical-marijuana business owner Jessica LeRoux, who said overregulation of recreational marijuana will allow the black market to continue to flourish.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper — while complimentary of the task force's effort — was hardly upbeat about the future of Colorado with legal marijuana. During his brief remarks to the task force, for instance, he predicted that the state would see more homeless teenagers because of marijuana.
"I think that world is going to have consequences that, no matter how thoughtful we are, we will not be able to anticipate," he said. "But I'm not saying the sky is falling. ... Obviously, we have to be pragmatic."
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, firstname.lastname@example.org
Task force proposals for recreational marijuana in Colorado
Create an excise tax of 15 percent paid by marijuana stores at wholesale level
Create a special marijuana sales tax paid by consumers
Allow employers to fire employees for off-the-job marijuana use
Allow marijuana sales to out-of-state residents visiting Colorado
Restrict where and how marijuana stores can advertise
Require marijuana to be sold in child-proof packaging
Clarify that marijuana given away in exchange for a donation is illegal
Include marijuana in smoking ban at bar and restaurants, effectively barring cannabis clubs
Require marijuana grown at home to be in a room with walls and a ceiling. No outdoor marijuana growing.
Require state and local approval for marijuana stores
Create a seed-to-sale regulatory system for recreational marijuana businesses similar to medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Require marijuana products to have labels of potency