GOLDEN - A serious-looking group of Colorado politicians and bureaucrats on Monday set about the nitty-gritty work of something unimaginable just a few years ago: legalizing marijuana.
The 24-person task force set up by Gov. John Hickenlooper is supposed to recommend legal changes to the Legislature to respond to voters' approval in November of Amendment 64, which legalizes the private use and possession of marijuana and calls for a system of over-the-counter pot sales from specially licensed stores.
The group met for the first time Monday. In the audience, a young man in a colorful flannel shirt, goatee and green knit stocking cap played with a Rubik's Cube while the suit-and-tie clad task force members worked out their schedule.
But the task force's chairman sought to avoid a culture clash between marijuana activists and the task force, which includes many opponents of the ballot measure.
"We're not here to revisit the merits of Amendment 64," said Jack Finlaw, Hickenlooper's chief legal counsel. "We know voters approved it, so our job is finding ways to efficiently and effectively implement it."
Hickenlooper gave the group until Feb. 28 to make recommendations to the Legislature. Lawmakers will have to act by the end of their session in May in order to meet Amendment 64's July 1 deadline to have regulations in place.
The group spent its first meeting identifying issues that lawmakers and regulators will have to face.
It's a long list.
Amendment 64 tells the Legislature and the Department of Revenue to set up a system to regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. In practice, that means dozens of changes to the law, ranging from local authority to ban marijuana stores, to repealing parts of the criminal code, to deciding when someone is too high to drive.
The group also wants to consider the rights of employers and employees regarding drug testing. And Hickenlooper has made a priority of keeping marijuana out of the hands of people under age 21.
"There may be so many issues we don't get to all of them," Finlaw said.
The task force set up five workgroups that will write most of the detailed recommendations. The full task force has to approve the recommendations, preferably by consensus but, if not, then by a majority vote.
The full group will meet five more times in Golden, Jan. 7, Jan. 27, Feb. 5, Feb. 19 and Feb. 28.