Derek Franz

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November 21, 2012
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Amendment 64 effects won't be seen here until next year

When it comes to the implications of Amendment 64 for the town of Eagle and local law enforcement, it's a wait-and-see situation.

"I think everybody is waiting to see how the federal government responds," said Dieneka Manzanares, who owns Eagle's only medical marijuana dispensary, The Sweet Leaf Pioneer, with her husband.

Eagle Police Chief Rodger McLaughlin said he thinks the federal government will challenge the amendment.

"I'm certain there will be challenges to it but probably not in time to keep it from going into effect," he said.

Amendment 64 is a change to Colorado's Constitution to legalize marijuana for people 21 and older and regulate the drug similar to alcohol. Marijuana is still considered fully illegal by the federal government. A similar measure was also passed in Washington state.

Several states including Colorado have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Some larger medical marijuana businesses in those states have been federally investigated and prosecuted, so there are no guarantees of immunity for those businesses as it is.

"We're excited (about Amendment 64)," Manzanares said. "We think it's going to be a great thing as long as the federal government doesn't crack down."

She said if and when the time comes, they will apply to the town of Eagle for a retail license. That would allow the Sweet Leaf to operate more like a liquor store that is open to the public instead of a medical dispensary, where patients have to provide state-issued licenses, which are expensive and require a doctor's recommendation.

Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands said the town will need to draft its own code in response to the amendment but is waiting to see what the state government does. That will likely take at least until July. He said the town will likely accept applications for marijuana retail stores by the end of this year, though it isn't a sure bet the stores will be allowed in town.

"The town board could decide to prohibit such stores or it could go to the voters for a decision," he said. "We also don't know what the federal government is going to do."

In a split vote back in 2010, the Eagle Town Board approved the Sweet Leaf operation. Then in February 2011, the town board reversed that decision and voted to ban medical marijuana operations in the community. The Sweet Leaf owners successfully petitioned for a special election to allow their business to remain open. In January of this year, Eagle voters passed the measure.

Manzanares said it would be tough to compete with marijuana retail stores if the Sweet Leaf isn't permitted to change over to retail. She is confident that would happen, however.

"If the town didn't want to let us (change to retail), I think we would be successful in a petition - the majority of Eagle County voters passed Amendment 64," she said. "We want to stay here. The people here are great and this is our home. Right now we're doing well and rolling along."

Meanwhile, McLaughlin and Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said they will enforce the laws as they exist today.

"We're not taking a hard line approach but (non-medical marijuana) is still illegal for now," McLaughlin said. "It's our job to protect the rights of everyone and when Amendment 64 goes into effect, we will protect those new rights as well."

Hoy pointed out how some areas are handling it differentlyj. For example, the district attorney in Boulder immediately dropped all marijuana charges against people who were 21 or older. The DA's reasoning was that a jury would be unlikely to convict for those charges in light of the amendment.

"Weld County is doing just the opposite - they're going to continue prosecuting until the new law goes into effect," Hoy said. "We are still going to charge people for possession but we're not actively hunting for people with a small amount of pot on them."

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The VailDaily Updated Nov 21, 2012 12:09PM Published Nov 21, 2012 12:08PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.