The Controlled Substances Act, which is not being enforced in states with recreational and medical marijuana, should be amended by Congress to explicitly allow any state marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference. That polite “butt out” request was made to the federal government last week in Seattle by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Until then, the states do not want the federal administration to “undermine” their own marijuana and hemp policies. The states going on record with their desire to keep the federal government out of their drug business comes in the 20th month of the longest-running recreational marijuana experience in the country so far — Colorado. Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have since joined the party. About half the states, according to NCSL, allow medical use of marijuana. Colorado became the first state with legal recreational pot because voters approved it in a ballot measure. It passed mostly because of Colorado’s wide libertarian streak. After all, the late John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” is the state song. Recreational marijuana then became an unexpected food safety issue because of the large percentage sold in food products, or “edibles,” as they’re called. Smoking went out of fashion before smoking pot crossed over to the legal side, and it’s resulted in edibles being as much as half the market. Colorado currently has 134 manufacturers licensed to make “infused” food products. They rely on 480 cultivators for their weed supply — and the potent TCH needed for their products — and they, in turn, keep supply moving out to Colorado’s 380 recreational pot stores. Colorado voters probably did not entirely understand what they were doing when the ballot initiative made the Department of Revenue the marijuana industry’s only regulator. To say that the tax man has been slow on the uptake on everything from pathogens to pesticides is putting it mildly. Colorado’s marijuana enforcement unit in the Department of Revenue is still trying to catch up with the whole food safety concept. It currently has five stakeholder groups working on a rewrite of its 126-page rulebook. Revenue’s pot cops do allow state food safety officials to serve on some of their stakeholder groups. They’ve not yet been able to make edibles easily identifiable as pot products. To be sure, Washington state, and, hopefully, the other states following along, are probably doing a better job of making sure that pot food manufacturing is safe and that cultivation practices are sound. Over the years, the combination of marketing and safety roles required of USDA has often come in for criticism and legislative fixes. But when the state is in the drug business, it really does gets interesting. When recreational pot sales began in Colorado, for example, health officials started a public education campaign aimed at young people around the theme, “Don’t Be a Lab Rat.” The pot barons went nuts, and this year’s campaign theme was changed to, “Good to Know.” Talk about conflicted. What seems certain is that this fun is very likely coming to a state near you. Many of the medical marijuana states are preparing to make the jump to recreational pot either by attempted legislative action or through ballot initiatives. Residents of those states would be well-advised — whether they’re for or against the measures — to be prepared to work on the food and agricultural safety issues that will follow if they succeed. Colorado residents also have been repeatedly warned by the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, that recreational pot sales are now permitted only because the existing Controlled Substances Act is not being enforced by the Obama administration. And that could change in the wink of an eye unless Congress changes the law. Currently, the states are relying on a restriction in the Appropriations Act that prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from certain enforcement of medical marijuana. NCSL wants to move the federal government from the field entirely and let the states serve their purpose as “laboratories for democracy” to work out what’s best for marijuana use and hemp production. Colorado’s “Lab Rats” are asked all the time about the state’s marijuana experiment. Personally, I haven’t noticed much difference — even at outdoor music venues. A hint of that familiar smell may be in the air, but it’s been there for about 50 years. At this point, Colorado’s law limits pot use to private residences or accommodating hotels. There is a concern that the state is making it too hard for visitors older than 21 to indulge. Another ballot measure could fix that by making recreational pot use legal at certain 21-and-over premises. That could make it more noticeable, but probably not by much. This experiment is likely coming to your state, and other than making sure about the food safety of those edibles, there’s not much more to do about it.
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