Mike McKibbin

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November 21, 2012
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'Wait and see' on marijuana use in Rifle

Law enforcement officials, including Rifle Police Chief John Dyer, are urging people to "wait and see" how the rules and regulations for the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana develop.

Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment, 64, in the Nov. 6 general election. It legalizes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21 and taxes marijuana in a similar way as alcohol. The measure passed with 55 percent of voter support.

The amendment establishes an excise tax on marijuana and designates the first $40 million collected to be used for constructing schools. However, the tax must still be approved by a separate statewide vote.

Dyer said Gov. John Hickenlooper has until Jan. 6 to certify the results from the election.

"I think we're all in a 'wait-and-see' mode until then," Dyer said in an interview in his office on Friday, Nov. 16. "Then there's the big question of what the federal authorities will do. I think this is like anything new that comes along. You don't usually see all the issues involved."

How the federal government, which considers marijuana possession and sales illegal regardless of state law, responds to the passage of the amendment will be a large factor in how the law is applied in Colorado.

Since the election, Dyer said he has not had any questions from residents and was not aware of any asked of his officers about marijuana use.

Currently, Dyer said his officers have been given the same message they've always had regarding marijuana - it's illegal. Under the city criminal code, someone found with less than an ounce of marijuana is subject to a $100 fine. Jail time is not involved and the violations are handled in municipal court.

Recently, prosecutors in Boulder and Denver said they will no longer charge those 21 and older for carrying less than an ounce of marijuana, and will review current cases that fit under the language of the amendment.

For police officers, Dyer said another question stems from the lack of a presumptive level for drugged driving in the amendment, while there are decades of studies and state and local laws related to drunk driving.

"Just that issue alone might take years to work through the courts," Dyer said. "In the meantime, my real fear is that we'll continue to see a rise in drugged driving."

So far this year, Rifle officers have arrested 58 drivers for suspicion of DUI, which includes drugged driving offenders, Dyer said. However, a firm figure for drugged driving arrests was not readily available in police records, he added.

Dyer said officers are trained to identify drugged drivers, and carry tests in their vehicles.

"It's a more extensive battery of tests than a field sobriety test everyone has seen," he added.

Another area likely to be affected by the new law is how drug investigations that involve other drugs are conducted.

"We usually do find more than one kind of drug," Dyer said. "So what happens if we find marijuana along with something else? And what about a drug dog that hits on marijuana and there's other drugs?"

Dyer also noted that once the legal issues are worked out and rules and regulations are developed by the Colorado Department of Revenue, marijuana use will still be illegal in public by anyone, for those under 21, with more than one ounce and having more than six plants in a private residence.

The law gives lawmakers and state revenue officials until July 1 to adopt regulations for marijuana stores, which could start opening in January 2014.

"For Rifle, the only real question is whether to allow retail sales of marijuana in the city," Dyer said.

A Colorado Municipal League memo provided to Rifle City Council for their Monday meeting said municipalities can either prohibit or restrict the time, place, manner and number of retail marijuana operations in their jurisdiction before July 1, 2013.

Local governments may prohibit by council action at any time, but the first opportunity to refer a retail marijuana prohibition question to the ballot is the general election on Nov. 4, 2014, the memo continued. Some municipalities may choose to issue a prohibition, moratorium, or regulations until the voters have the opportunity to be heard at the next general election.

If state revenue officials do not issue regulations by July 1, the memo said cities and towns may choose to issue local licenses starting Oct. 1, 2013, but there is no requirement for local governments to issue retail marijuana licenses in the absence of a state licensing program.

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The Post Independent Updated Nov 21, 2012 05:28PM Published Nov 21, 2012 05:27PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.