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Colorado high court decision may have long-term consequences


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A potential crisis in the licensing of pot growers in Colorado has been created by a recent decision of the Colorado Supreme Court. In a decision that may have long-term consequences, the Court ruled last week that law enforcement agencies are not required to return marijuana seized during an arrest, even if the defendants are acquitted on the charges. According to some experts, the ruling flies in the face of years of practice and is in direct opposition to Amendment 64, which legalizes marijuana in the state.

The Court held that making law enforcement return pot to its original possessors conflicts with federal drug laws, which still view marijuana as a dangerous drug. Some commentators believe that the ruling challenges the right of the state to license pot growing. Under federal law, it is reasoned that the state could be a complicit partner in dealing drugs. If that interpretation turns out to be correct, a great source of revenue would be denied to the state and a system with a multitude of unregulated growers would emerge.

The latter result would be catastrophic in several aspects, including that the quality and uniformity of product would no longer be assured, this creating a potential health hazard in the state. The Supreme Court ruling came down in a case involving a man who in 2011 had been arrested for growing pot to produce oil to treat his leukemia. After the man was acquitted on the charges, the lower courts had ruled that the authorities should return his plants and several pounds of packaged pot.

The authorities appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which issued the recent holding on a 4-3 vote. Law enforcement generally is in favor of the Supreme Court decision because it frees the agencies to destroy the pot early in the process. Others worry about the long-term consequences of viewing the state as a potential criminal actor in the licensing and regulating of marijuana sales. The final answers may only come when the position of federal authorities going forward is made clear.                                                                                                                      

Source:, “Will Colorado Supreme Court decision undermine state’s regulatory system for marijuana?“, Lance Benzel, Jan. 24, 2017

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