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Legislative Pot Committee Wrapping Up Work

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State lawmakers are planning to introduce a bill to regulate recreational marijuana next week. A task force is wrapping up its work with a slew of recommendations. But there are still some big issues to iron out.

Members of the bi-partisan committee say the toughest challenge will be figuring out the right level to tax marijuana. Amendment 64 requires an excise tax to go before voters, with the first chunk of money slated towards education. Lawmakers are also considering a special a sale tax. Senator Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) says the tax rate is a key piece of the overall puzzle.

“Changes how we look at enforcement, changes how we think through the interplay between local and state government, and so I think that’s probably the most difficult,” he said.

For others– it’s making sure the tax isn’t too high – which could push people into the black market.

“I’m not very optimistic we’ll come to agreement on a lot of those ideas because I think now we’re coming to philosophical differences,” said Representative Brian DelGrosso (R- Loveland). “Up until this point I think everything’s been kind of non-partisan.”

DelGrosso says he doesn’t want Colorado to put too big a burden on legitimate marijuana businesses. And he isn’t sure that businesses should be required to grow their own product.

“I think we were sold that vertical integration was the way to go, but found out that this wasn’t being enforced. So the whole model of how this is the best way to go came crashing down.”

DelGrosso is referring to a scathing state audit that said the Colorado Department of Revenue is failing to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries from seed to sale. The audit also criticized the department for having a huge backlog of applications, misspending money and being plagued with layoffs. The Department of Revenue is charged with regulating recreational marijuana and. Executive Director Barbara Brohl told the committee the department is up to the task, but she says they need more resources.

“Lets face it we have 15 people doing the job for 55. We’re no-where near where we should be,” she said.

Democratic representative Dan Pabon of Denver says crafting the new regulations is important work that takes time, effort and energy.

“We’ve got to get this right. The people of Colorado are asking us to regulate this properly. We’ve also got to make sure that the public safety is protected and that we protect our children,” said Pabon.

Pabon says the committee will also consider recommending a state rule that would require a public hearing before a pot shop could open. But he says local governments could opt out. He and others expect a vigorous debate as marijuana measures move through the legislature, and he says he’s confident lawmakers can craft rules before the legislative session ends.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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