VALLEY — Local law enforcement officials are preparing for the ramifications of last week’s election legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado.
“With regard to the marijuana prosecutions, I believe the voters have spoken and it will be next to impossible to get a conviction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana,” stated David Mahonee, district attorney for the 12th Judicial District, encompassing the San Luis Valley’s six counties.
However, he added, “Having said that, it is still illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or to provide marijuana to a minor, and we will pursue those cases aggressively.”
Mahonee said the Colorado District Attorney’s Counsel will be discussing this topic during their meeting next week.
“I am hopeful that there will be a statewide consensus among the elected DA’s on how to proceed with the Amendment 64 changes,” he said.
Alamosa Police Chief Craig Dodd responded that he had not received official direction yet from Mahonee, “but it’s safe to say that we will follow the course his office sets for the entire 12th Judicial District.”
Boulder County became the first in the state to drop pending marijuana possession cases after last week’s vote to legalize marijuana, according to an Associated Press story on Thursday.
Routt County District Attorney Brett Barkey said he planned to meet with senior staff members to decide how to proceed, and Grand Junction Police Department officers have already been told to stop issuing ounce-or-less marijuana tickets.
One of the lead opponents to the marijuana measure was Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. He announced on Thursday that his office would not drop possession cases, citing obligation to the law and helping addicts find treatment.
During the November 6 General Election, voters in Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, with a similar measure passing in Washington State. Colorado had already legalized medical marijuana.
The measure approved last week, Amendment 64, stated that adults over 21 could possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or six marijuana plants, for personal use.
The amendment also allows commercial sales of the drug starting next year, though cities would be free to prohibit commercial marijuana businesses. It specifically prohibits using the drug “openly or publicly.”
Legalization backers argued that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and should be regulated and taxed. Opponents said legalizing pot would increase its use and make it easier for youths to obtain it.
The amendment sets up regulations for how the drug can be used and sold. The amendment directs state lawmakers to regulate the drug through the Department of Revenue, which already regulates alcohol sales and medical marijuana dispensaries.
The measure also directs the general assembly to place an excise tax of up to 15 percent on marijuana sales, with the first $40 million each year designated for school construction. Voters would have to approve the tax.
The amendment also allows the production of industrial hemp, which can be used for fiber, fuel and other items.
Colorado’s amendment did not affect existing medical marijuana law. Colorado has 536 dispensaries licensed statewide including at least three in the San Luis Valley, one in Costilla County, one in Alamosa County and one in Saguache County.
Colorado voters rejected marijuana legalization in 2006, 59 percent to 41 percent. This time around, however, voters approved Amendment 64, 55 percent to 45 percent, with more than 1.3 million electors voting in favor of the amendment and just over 1 million voting against it.
AP articles contributed to this story.