GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Local law enforcement officials are advising people to wait until the new state provision legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes officially takes effect before taking liberty with the newfound freedom.
Exactly when that will happen remains open to different legal interpretations following a 55 percent voter approval of Colorado Amendment 64 in last week's election.
Some published reports indicate the measure decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by adults age 21 and over will take effect Dec. 6. That's when Gov. John Hickenlooper is to certify the results of the Nov. 6 election.
Others have opined that the decriminalization technically doesn't take effect until Amendment 64 is officially written into the state Constitution, which the governor is required to do by Jan. 5, 2013.
And, there is the possibility that the U.S. Justice Department could sue Colorado and the other states where voters approved the relaxing of marijuana laws, which would block the measures from taking effect indefinitely.
In any case, anyone caught in the interim for marijuana possession, which remains illegal under federal law, faces the possibility of being issued a summons to appear in court, Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said.
"Right now, it's still illegal and we will write them a summons to court if someone is found in possession of marijuana," Wilson said. "Until the law is certified and in effect, we have to enforce what's on the books."
Wilson said the issue has been raised in the past week. Some people assumed it was immediately OK to possess marijuana and related paraphernalia.
"I had one guy in here yesterday who wanted his pipe and grinder back that we confiscated back in June," Wilson said. "We had to tell him no."
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said his deputies continue to operate under the existing law until advised otherwise.
"It's anybody's guess right now where this will all go," Vallario said. "There is a lot of discussion, and opinions and what-ifs. I have my own questions about whether a state can actually pass a constitutional amendment that is clearly in violation of federal law."
"We enforce the laws," Vallario added. "But if it's the will of the people to make [marijuana] legal, and that law is put into effect, we will honor that."
Meanwhile, local governments are also educating themselves on the provisions of Amendment 64 and how it stands to impact local land-use regulations and existing codes related to medical marijuana.
Amendment 64 does not change state or local laws related to medical marijuana. Certified medical marijuana patients can still possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, and commercial dispensaries and growing operations will still continue to operation under state and local regulations.
Amendment 64, in addition to legalizing marijuana possession for recreational purposes, also directs the Colorado Department of Revenue to set up a regulatory structure for growing, manufacturing and selling marijuana for recreational use by July 2013.
If state regulations are not in place by October of next year, however, municipal and county governments have the authority to implement their own local regulations, Garfield County Assistant Attorney Carey Gagnon advised county commissioners at a Tuesday meeting.
"It does operate independent of medical marijuana, so it would have no effect on our current regulatory scheme," she said.
Municipalities and counties do have the authority to prohibit the commercial aspects of recreational marijuana within their jurisdictions, same as they had with medical marijuana, Gagnon said.
However, the county or any other local entity would have to wait until November of 2014 to enact an ordinance or put the question to local voters, she said.
Unlike the case with medical marijuana over the past couple of years, there should not be a need for a moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses, Gagnon said.
That's because, under Amendment 64, such businesses may not operate until they are properly licensed by the state, she said.
Medical marijuana facilities are also not allowed to transition into recreational marijuana businesses under the new law, she said.