Recreational Pot Takes Center Stage in Colorado
DENVER (CN) - Retail marijuana dispensaries opened for business Wednesday in Colorado, where new technology could help the state crack down on illegal public consumption of a drug that's now legal in private.
As of Jan. 1, Colorado residents 21 and older can buy up to an ounce of marijuana from licensed retail dispensaries for private use. Adults can also grow as many as six plants for personal use.
Non-residents can buy up to a fourth of an ounce. Possession by minors is still against the law, though it is being decriminalized for 18- to 21-year-olds in Denver.
Ezekiel Edwards of the American Civil Liberties Union's Criminal Law Reform Project said the move will have positive effects on the justice system.
"By legalizing marijuana, Colorado has stopped the needless and racially biased enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws," he said in a press release. "This change will bring both justice and savings. Colorado will save millions previously spent arresting and penalizing people who use marijuana, and will instead generate millions in revenue through the taxation and regulation of its sale and possession."
Public consumption is still illegal, though the extent to which it will be tolerated remains to be seen. People were seen smoking pot across Denver on Tuesday night, stoking fears that users might flout the city's ban on public consumption, and that police might not have the resources to fight flagrant smokers.
"I am not going to have a team of officers specifically going out looking for people smoking marijuana," Police Chief Robert White told the Denver Post earlier this week. "If we get complaints or run into it, we're certainly going to investigate it. We have to balance our resources as it relates to addressing these issues."
At the city's disposal are new technologies that will hypothetically help cops crack down on illegal use.
The "Nasal Ranger" is one such contraption making the rounds in local media, in part because of the absurdity of its appearance. The so-called "field olfactometer" allows its users to monitor the air for particularly strong or offensive odors by sticking their nose in the end of a telescope-like device.
Driving while high is another concern for police, but it's uncertain how they intend to test drivers' blood for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
The state is clear on its limits: "It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana and it can result in a DUI, just like alcohol," a notice on the state's website says. "Anyone with 5 nanograms or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (known as THC) per milliliter in whole blood (CRS 42-4-1301) while driving can be arrested for DUI. The consequences of DUI is dependent on the driver but they can include fines, jail time and a revoked license."
But according to a lawsuit filed in March 2013 by DUI attorney Lloyd Boyer, the state plans to use a breath-test machine called the Intoxilyzer 9000 to determine whether a driver is high.
Boyer claimed the machines haven't been properly tested.
"Neither the board of health, the board's staff, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment nor the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment staff can say how the Intoxilyzer 9000 works, if it works properly, and if so, subject to what limitations," his lawsuit states.
That ambiguity will sow confusion in criminal proceedings by creating "uncertainty of what evidentiary standards will be applied in the trial courts of this state," according to the complaint.
"Said uncertainty will subject numerous criminal defendants to the risk that if they do not take on a burden of proof which is not constitutionally theirs, they may stand convicted and be forced [to] risk appeal for the vindication of their rights," the lawsuit states.
Vincent Todd, a paralegal at Boyer's firm and a co-plaintiff in Boyer's lawsuit, filed a follow-up lawsuit in September, claiming the state refused to provide the unredacted information they requested.
According to the state's website, adults in Denver can carry marijuana in their cars so long as it is contained but cannot smoke in a vehicle.
The state also urges pot smokers to research the laws that other cities and counties have adopted on marijuana possession and use.