MONTANA - In Helena, the Senate Committee for Marijuana Law heard from officials in Colorado on challenges with enforcing marijuana laws and containing the black market.
A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer briefed lawmakers on the issues he has seen once the drug was legalized for recreational use in Colorado. The officer says plant enforcement was one of the main issues.
"If people were caught with more than two ounces they could argue ,in affirmative defense, of medical necessity. When I would go to a home and there were a thousand plants in the basement, and the person said they needed it, it became difficult because I am not a doctor," DEA Marijuana Officer Ray Padilla said.
Law enforcement officers just have to take people at their word.
"If you felt you had the medical necessity for more plants, in Colorado, we allow that," Padilla said.
He says black market marijuana became a hot item, especially out of state. In Colorado, marijuana goes for about $800 a pound, but in other states, the price goes up.
"When you take it to New York and you are selling it upwards of $7,000 a pound, there's a tremendous amount of money being produced," Padilla said.
And the potency, or how much THC is in the plants, also created problems. Colorado has no limit on THC levels.
"Officers on the street will encounter people who look like they are exhibiting methamphetamine based behavior, where it looks like they're under the influence of meth, but they find out it's high grade marijuana," Padilla said.
The potency can be a factor, especially with edibles or snack that are infused with THC. The risk is that young kids can accidently eat them if they are not kept out of reach.
"We've run into issues in Colorado when it came to packaging because kids don't grab marijuana and say, 'I wonder what this is?' and they don't look for marijuana labeling. They might see this label on the back, but they don't know what it means. They are still going to eat that candy," Padilla said.
House Bill 707 was tabled this week, which is one of the "Big Three" marijuana implementation bills in Montana, along with HB 670 and 701.
If none of the bills make it through the process, Initiative 190 will be the framework for recreational marijuana in Montana.