The subtitle for Amendment 64 in the Colorado voter guide is "Use and Regulation of Marijuana."
While the use side is clear — the amendment legalizes marijuana use and possession of up to an ounce for people over 21 — the regulation half is more murky. The amendment does not spell out the precise details of how the commercial marijuana industry it allows would be regulated. Instead, it leaves those specifics up to the state legislature and the Department of Revenue, which would oversee the businesses. (Local governments could also ban the businesses.)
In explaining how the marijuana-store regulations would work, proponents sometimes point to Colorado's system governing medical-marijuana businesses. That system involves security requirements for the businesses, monitoring of marijuana plants as they are grown and shipped, and auditors who perform site visits.
"That certainly provides a good starting point for them," said Mason Tvert, one of Amendment 64's backers. "But ultimately it will be up to them to determine how they want to handle it."
Critics, though, say the medical-marijuana system shows it would be difficult to regulate a recreational marijuana industry effectively.
The lift-off of the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division — the Revenue Department branch that regulates dispensaries — has been bumpy. Though 2 years old, the division still has as many applications pending for dispensary licenses as it has licenses actually issued — 268 each, according to the latest numbers. A funding shortfall caused by a delay in issuing licenses led the division to slash its workforce nearly in half earlier this year.
The division has only 15 employees, including 10 who make on-site compliance checks. They are responsible for overseeing more than 500 licensed dispensaries, marijuana-infused products makers and cultivation facilities. Auditors make about 23 site visits a week.
Law-enforcement groups say medical-marijuana regulations have been unsuccessful in keeping products bought at dispensaries from trickling into the black market.
"The regulation of the medical-marijuana industry has not been good," said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, an Amendment 64 opponent. "And I have no reason to expect regulation of the recreational marijuana industry would be any better."
It would at least be somewhat different.
While state rules require medical-marijuana dispensaries to be vertically integrated — they must grow themselves most of what they sell — there is no such requirement in Amendment 64. Growers could be wholesalers, selling to any store they can. There are no plant limits for commercial growers specified in the amendment either.
"You can concentrate on what you're good at," medical-marijuana attorney Rob Corry said at a forum last week for dispensary owners.
At the same forum at which Corry spoke, attorney Bob Dill said assembling the regulations for recreational businesses would be potentially tumultuous.
"You can see how this becomes government by chaos in putting this together," he said.
But the man who wrote Colorado's medical-marijuana business regulations, former Revenue Department enforcement director Matt Cook, doesn't see it that way.
"Given resources, I think they're capable of doing anything," Cook said. "The concept of regulating an industry is fairly easy if you're given the resources needed to do it."
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, email@example.com or twitter.com/john_ingold