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Steep excise, sales taxes could be in store for marijuana trade
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Steep excise, sales taxes could be in store for marijuana trade

Colorado blazing new trail for recreational pot sales

A marijuana advocate in Boulder encourages voters to pass Amendment 64 last fall. (Photo by Troy Hooper)
A marijuana advocate in Boulder encourages voters to pass Amendment 64 last fall. (Photo by Troy Hooper)
DENVER—Some of the haze surrounding what Colorado's marijuana industry might look like cleared late Thursday when a governor-appointed task force completed the recommendations it will be making to state lawmakers.

Among the task force's suggestions: Pot should be grown indoors but not outdoors. It should be heavily taxed — stores would pay a 15 percent excise tax at whole sale and consumers would pay an additional undetermined marijuana sales tax. Out-of-state residents would be allowed to purchase pot in Colorado, opening the door to so-called "pot tourism." TV and radio advertising would be banned, as would most print ads. Marijuana would have to be sold in child-proof containers.

The exhaustive list of recommendations now go to state lawmakers who have until May to pass a regulatory framework for the recreational marijuana trade.

Getting to this point was no easy task.

The task force was divided into working groups of people representing competing interests to address specific topics, such as the definition of "closed space" for purposes of cultivating marijuana.

"The criminal process is an inherently adversarial process and I think our working group reflected that," public defender Brian Connors said half-jokingly.

The members of the task force said they realized that all of their hard work could fall to the wayside, whether it be at the state capitol or in the courts.

"The bar we are setting will be challenged in court once someone is arrested," said Christian Sederberg, one of the authors of voter-approved Amendment 64.

The amendment allows adults 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from retail dispensaries and grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes.

The task force recommended that "a reasonable, maximum amount" that can be kept at the location of a non-commercial cultivation should be limited to a pound.

Lauren Davis, a defense attorney, called the recommendation "problematic."

"The 16 ounces … was arbitrarily picked. There was no testimony taken," Davis said. "There was no grower who talked about how much a plant yields. There was no user who talked about why they might need more than 16 ounces. ... The legislation needs to take testimony to determine what is a reasonable amount."

Sederberg said that Amendment 64 sets no limits on the amount of marijuana that can be produced by the six plants allowed.

Concern was also expressed that if marijuana taxes are too high, buyers and sellers will stay in the black market.

It will be up to state lawmakers to ultimately decide what to do with the task force's recommendations and whether to pass them piecemeal or as an omnibus bill.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who made a surprise appearance at the task force hearing, warned that despite lawmakers' best intentions, there likely will be problems ahead.

"I think that world is going to have consequences that, no matter how thoughtful we are, we will not be able to anticipate," the governor said. "But I'm not saying the sky is falling. … We have to be pragmatic."
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