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Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

Colorado’s New Marijuana Regulations are Overly Burdensome

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2013 | Uncategorized

When Colorado voters approved a state constitutional amendment repealing Marijuana Prohibition last November, the next step was to draft laws regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. For practical reasons, Governor John Hickenlooper signed the new marijuana regulations into law on May 28, 2013, despite having been an opponent of the re-legalization of marijuana. I never thought that I would find myself taking issue with any legislation re-legalizing an unjustly demonized plant species, however, I simply cannot agree with a law, which more tightly regulates cannabis than alcohol.

Under the new regulations, Coloradans can purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana at a time. Coloradans can grow up to six plants at a time, but no more than three plants can be flowering at any given time. Out-of-staters can only buy and posses a quarter ounce at a time, which creates some very interesting equal protection issues, given the fact that the possession of a naturally occurring plant species remains illegal under antiquated “Reefer Madness” era federal law.

One can only assume that the new Colorado marijuana regulation laws were borne out of a compromise between lingering prohibitionists, clinging to their out-dated views like aging Soviet communists after 1991, and anti-prohibitionist libertarians. Quite simply, the weight and plant restrictions make no sense when compared to alcohol regulations.

It is perfectly legal to order 20 kegs of beer and hundreds of bottles of hard liquor for a large wedding, bar-mitzvah or other celebration. So why is one limited to a mere ounce of marijuana, when there is no dispute that marijuana is a far safer drug for both the user and society at large than alcohol? Why can one person possess a wine or scotch collection with hundreds of bottles, while a marijuana connoisseur is forbidden from collecting a diverse collection of cannabis strains? A pothead who can never has more than an ounce in his home simple because he constantly depletes his stash is considered a law abiding citizen, while the more judicious user, who smokes only on weekends, but prefers a variety of strains depending upon his mood, is breaking the law by exceeding the one ounce limit. Marijuana publications are considered “pornography,” and must be displayed behind the counter, and may not be sold to anyone under 21, while beer, wine and hard liquor commercials are found in every medium throughout the entire United States. None of this makes any sense. One can only hope that the Colorado authorities simply ignore the new weight and plant limits and that the content-based censorship of marijuana literature is found to violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Given the fact that I represent so many victims of Marijuana Prohibition, people are always asking me when I think Pennsylvania will re-legalize cannabis. I tell them that Prohibition will be repealed in our lifetimes, but we could be more than a decade away. Pennsylvania has the second oldest population in the United States, behind only Florida. Thus, we will likely be among the last states to repeal Prohibition. The one advantage we will have is that we will have the luxury of modeling our marijuana regulations after the most efficient and effective regulations in effect in other states. I suspect that by then, the current Colorado approach will have long since been discarded.

Matt McClenahen practices criminal law in State College, Pennsylvania. Many of his clients are victims of Marijuana Prohibition.

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