New Colorado marijuana law: Possession, cultivation and criminal defense

When Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, the state joined Washington as the only two states to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults. While questions remain about whether the U.S. Department of Justice will assert federal supremacy, marijuana legalization brings major changes to prosecutions under Colorado criminal law.

Government officials estimate that Amendment 64 could contribute tens of millions in revenue to the state with the passage of sales tax and licensing fees. Amendment 64 authorizes marijuana growth, processing, testing and sales at four types of regulated marijuana establishments: marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturers, testing facilities and retail stores.

With respect to individual rights to possess pot, Amendment 64 allows persons who are 21 or older to possess marijuana accessories and up to one ounce of marijuana. The ounce includes all parts of the plant, including seeds and resins. Adults are also authorized to possess, grow and process up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space.

Colorado media outlets were already reporting in late November that some district attorneys had ceased prosecuting simple possession charges, while others were handling dismissals on an individual basis. However, even after the Governor's formal proclamation of election results, a great deal of uncertainty remains before Coloradans can be confident that possessing marijuana will not be subject to criminal penalties.

The future of marijuana-related charges in Colorado

The combination of small-scale legalization and large-scale licensing means that plenty of opportunities for marijuana cultivation charges will remain for growers who fall between personal plant limits and licensed status. Marijuana possession and distribution offenses will also remain in effect for those who exceed the limits or sell weed without authorization.

Another key question is the potential for the federal government to refuse to respect state law. While that may not pose major issues with respect to small-scale possession crimes, it could significantly affect licensed marijuana growers and processors (or even their landlords) who could be threatened with trafficking busts or run afoul of the federal tax code.

Even without federal intervention, the Colorado Department of Revenue has until next summer to adopt regulations for marijuana sales, so commercial availability is not expected before sometime in 2014. As the latest legal developments emerge, a Colorado criminal defense lawyer can advise people about their rights and prospects for reduction or dismissal of any drug-related charges.