DENVER (AP) - Marijuana regulation is moving at a halting pace in Colorado, where lawmakers Thursday extended a self-imposed deadline to agree how the newly legal drug should be grown, packaged and sold.
A special House-Senate committee set up to regulate pot broke down in disagreement and put off many decisions that will need to be made before commercial sale of marijuana begins next January. A bill to direct pot regulation still hasn't been introduced, and additional delays mean lawmakers could have less than a month to decide thorny questions such as how to tax pot and how professional pot growers should be regulated.
Legislative leaders say there's still time to regulate marijuana, which was made legal in violation of federal drug law by a vote of the people last year. Colorado and Washington both voted to allow adults over 21 to possess small amounts of pot, and now both states are grappling with how to regulate the drug. Commercial sales begin in Colorado next January.
Colorado's latest setback came Thursday, on what was to be the pot committee's final day.
The committee got off to a foul start when members from both parties expressed outrage after a state audit released this week detailed misspending and poor management at the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. The committee had already voted to tap MMED for regulation of recreational pot, but members revoked that decision after seeing the MMED audit.
The audit detailed misspending and mismanagement at the agency with a nagging backlog of pending medical marijuana licenses. The audit blasted MMED for buying expensive office chairs, patio furniture and sport utility vehicles while falling short of cash when it came time to pay for an elaborate tracking system intended to keep track of every legal marijuana plant in the state.
"They have proven that they can't handle what they already have," said Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland. Talking about the audit, he said, "it was top-to-bottom mismanagement."
The House-Senate pot committee then formally revoked its decision to recommend MMED for the bigger job of regulating all pot. That puts a big question mark on how the drug is going to be regulated.
The legislative panel did make some decisions that could end up in resulting marijuana regulation. Those included packaging requirements, such as a requirement that pot be sold in opaque, sealed containers such as stapled paper bags. The panel also agreed that pot should be sold with labels that state the drug's potency, measured by the amount of THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient.
Lawmakers also agreed to ban products that combine marijuana and alcohol, or marijuana and nicotine.
But many controversial decisions set for votes Thursday were delayed. Lawmakers seemed unable to agree whether pot sellers should have to grow most of the weed they sell, as required for current medical marijuana businesses. Lawmakers also delayed a decision on how to limit marijuana advertising so that it's not aimed at people under 21.
The chairman of the ad-hoc marijuana committee, Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver, conceded after the meeting that progress has been slow on deciding how to regulate pot. But he said there's plenty of time to get the job done before lawmakers conclude their business in May.
"We're working around the clock," Pabon said.
- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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