Drug Policy

Colorado Task Force Says Visitors Should Be Allowed to Buy Marijuana

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Jacob Sullum

This week the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force decided to recommend that visitors as well as Colorado residents be allowed to buy marijuana at the state-licensed pot stores that are supposed to start opening next year. The task force's recommendation to the Colorado General Assembly acknowledges the concern that "opening recreational sales to out-of-state residents could attract greater federal scrutiny and the displeasure of our neighboring states." But it suggests that issue "could be addressed through labeling and education"—for example, by "providing point-of-sale information to out-of-state consumers reminding them that marijuana cannot leave the state" and putting up "signage at airports and near borders reminding visitors that marijuana purchased in Colorado must stay in Colorado."

Deputy Attorney General David Blake, a task force member, was not happy. "The out-of-state tourism is exactly what I don't want," he said. "I don't want Colorado to become the pot-tourism mecca of the country." Yet it is hard to see how banning residents of other states from pot shops can be reconciled with Amendment 64, which allows "persons twenty-one years of age or older" to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, without reference to where they live.

"It is clear that under current state law out-of-state residents may possess less than an ounce of marijuana without penalty," the task force says. "Forbidding those from out-of-state from purchasing the marijuana that they may lawfully possess in Colorado would thus encourage straw purchases and unauthorized resale to out-of-state residents." Furthermore, Amendment 64 specifies that the Colorado Department of Revenue, which is charged with regulating marijuana producers and sellers, "shall not require a consumer to provide a retail marijuana store with personal information other than government-issued identification to determine the consumer's age." If a customer presents, say, a U.S. passport to show he is 21 or older, the retailer will not be able to determine where he lives, and requiring the customer to produce a form of identification showing his address would be unconstitutional.

That problem casts doubt not only on a rule making residence in Colorado a requirement for buying marijuana but also on any attempt to limit how much people buy based on where they live. Blake argued in favor of allowing visitors to buy no more than one-eighth of an ounce at a time as a way of discouraging people from reselling marijuana in other states. Christian Sederberg, a representative of the Yes on 64 campaign, said such a rule would not be much of an obstacle for a serious trafficker, although it might deter an "opportunistic tourist" like "the guy who says 'all my frat brothers at the KU frat house would really like it if I brought home some pot.'" In the end, the task force rejected Blake's proposal, leaving the issue of how much pot visitors can buy to be settled by the General Assembly. But even if legislators decide a limit lower than an ounce is appropriate, it will be difficult to enforce given Amendment 64's restriction on the information that can be demanded from pot purchasers.