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Burning questions Utahns may have about Colorado's pot laws

Published January 1, 2014 1:01 am

Q&A • How will Colorado's Jan. 1 recreational marijuana rollout affect us?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Starting Wednesday, the nation's reddest state will border its greenest.

Colorado not only decriminalized but flat-out legalized — starting Jan. 1 — recreational use of marijuana by a popular vote in November. Officials hope money that would have otherwise gone to violent cartels will support social programs — with the first $40 million of each year's pot taxes pegged for public schools. The first 136 retail stores in Colorado are now licensed, and Utahns are invited to partake.

The Salt Lake Tribune does not endorse using a Schedule I controlled substance that violates federal law. But since nobody in Colorado is likely to stop you, here's what you need to know before you toke.

Will there be retail stores close to Utah's border?

Not just yet. Although there are medical marijuana dispensaries as close as Palisade, the local politics in western Colorado are very different from those on the Front Range when it comes to recreational pot. State law allows counties and cities to set their own policies, and nearby locales on Interstate 70 and Highways 40 and 491 are taking a wait-and-see approach.

But later in 2014, it's possible that a western Colorado town could become for pot-seeking northern Utahns what Wendover, Nev., is for gamblers, what Malad City, Idaho, is for lotto hopefuls, and what Evanston, Wyo., is for keg partiers.

Jesse Loughman, owner of the Palisade medical marijuana dispensary Colorado Alternative Health Care, says there likely will be a municipal election in November 2014, and he's hopeful that with support from hotels and eateries, a moratorium will be lifted.

"There's no doubt we'd see people from Utah coming our way," he says.

A similar moratorium exists in southern Colorado's Cortez, where Herbal Alternative owner Liana Smith regularly fields calls from would-be buyers in neighboring states.

"We're a half hour away from Utah, New Mexico and Arizona," Smith says. "People in those states who want to enjoy marijuana recreationally are going to come here. ... People used to fly to Amsterdam because it was legal there."

So, on New Year's Day I can buy pot in Colorado, right?

After 8 a.m., if you're 21, yes. Technically. But many stores with state licenses still need approval from local authorities. And you'll also have to pay in cash, because of federal limits on cards and checks (although The Associated Press recently reported that Colorado officials expect the U.S. Treasury Department to loosen regulations in 2014).

How much pot can a Utahn buy?

A Coloradan can buy up to 1 ounce, or 28 grams, while an out-of-stater can buy a quarter-ounce. But there's no registry for buyers, so you could buy a quarter-ounce at multiple stores and then take another lap through town with a hat and some sunglasses. The purchase limits are also possession limits, so technically you'd be breaking the law, but the strict answer to the above question is, bluntly: a lot.

"It's almost an impossible control," Loughman says. "Say you're in Denver, there's going to be blocks on South Broadway in Denver where there's three recreational stores on the same block."

Where can I consume marijuana?

The more relevant question is "Where can I smoke marijuana?" but, for the record, there's a large menu of edible products (usually baked goods) available at many retail stores.

It remains illegal in Colorado to smoke marijuana publicly or in your car. Some hotels that allow tobacco smoking plan to stay marijuana-free, for two key reasons: 1. Marijuana gives off a potent odor, and 2. Guests (including children) could complain of an unwanted "contact high" from others' smoke.

An alternative might be to allow vaporizers, which heat marijuana to a point where only the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is burned. They are more discreet and less stinky, and some retailers may let travelers rent them.

Essentially, many hotels will address the problems as they crop up. Bo Bedford, front desk manager at the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride (county seat for San Miguel, which had the highest percentage of voter approval at 80 percent) says he doesn't expect things to change much. "There are many times I've walked into a room in the morning, and I can smell people have been smoking pot in there."

Can you be stoned on the slopes in Colorado?

Better leave it for the apres-ski. "It's just like any liquor law," says Telluride Ski Resort spokesman Tom Watkinson, citing the Colorado Ski Safety Act of 1979. "You're not allowed on chairlifts or ski runs if you're incapacitated."

Besides, Telluride, like many ski resorts, is on U.S. Forest Service land, so federal law and penalties apply. When you enter federal land, you may as well be leaving Colorado. However, pot will be available in most ski towns, including Crested Butte, Aspen and Breckenridge.

What if you fail a drug test for your Utah employer?

Even for Colorado residents, Amendment 64 doesn't "affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees," reports The Denver Post. Nic Dunn at Utah's Department of Workforce Services says that in the eyes of the court, it probably doesn't matter if weed was legal where you consumed it.

"The rationale could be that even though you consumed it in a place that's legal, our policy would be to have a drug-free workplace," he says.

Will Utah's law enforcement do anything differently?

Capt. Tyler Kotter of the State Bureau of Investigation said he's not aware of any plans for ramped-up patrols near the Utah/Colorado border.

"We might be looking at trends down the road and seeing if there's more people coming and going for those activities." But Loughman, for one, expects that many westward travelers will be stopped.

"You go into Utah now with Colorado license plates, and you'll get pulled over and one of the first questions they're going to ask is, 'How much marijuana do you have?'" he says.

For Utah DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Smith, whose chief concern is high-level drug traffickers, he's hopeful Colorado's social experiment offsets demand on the black market. But he has his doubts.

"I think there will be a shortage of supply and a lot of marijuana will come down our highways and a lot of money will go back toward Mexico," Smith says. "Every dime that we can keep out of the Mexican cartels' hands, I'm in favor of that."


Twitter: @matthew_piper






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