Nearly 30 days into the legislative session, and there are already at least ten bills that primarily address a proposed change in marijuana policy and another 13 that somehow mention legal marijuana in Colorado. More proposals are expected as the session progresses.
Proponents of legalized marijuana are often fond of saying it is supposed to be “treated just like alcohol.” (In truth, Amendment 64 declared that recreational marijuana is to be treated in a manner similar to alcohol) And then the legislature has spent most of the last three years dealing with bills and proposals to treat it differently in nearly every phase from production to consumption.
Marijuana is most certainly similar to alcohol in one regard. Liquor legislation has been a regular feature in almost every legislative session since prohibition. Now, only a little over five years after the legalization of licensed medical marijuana and barely two years since the first retail store opened, there is significant pressure on legislators to continue to change the implementation of both in Colorado.
No place to go
Prior to Amendment 64, which passed in the November 2012 general election, it was generally understood (by most) that the consumption of medical marijuana, purportedly for medicinal purposes, was a private matter. There was little to no pressure to create legalized social structures for group consumption. In their infinite wisdom, the drafters of Amendment 64 legalized possession, growth, and private use of marijuana, but created a constitutionally enshrined system that provided for retail sales that the whole world was invited to partake in. We built it and they came – but even before the first legal transaction at a retail store, people were already asking where they could congregate with other likeminded consumers.
Under the banner of private use, “private clubs” began to pop up in commercial settings, as local governments struggled to react to the issues instantly created: open and public use, zoning and land use conflicts, illegal transactions, and impaired driving. More recently, proposals among some around the Statehouse are to create a new, legalized method for public consumption, while trying to determine how such scheme would coexist with the prohibition in the constitution (left undefined) of open and public consumption. As of yet, there are no bill on this issue, but one legislator has contemplated the notion of “tasting rooms” appended to existing retail stores. Municipalities may have more to say about that if it is introduced.
Beer Marijuana Festival?
In liquor law, special event permits are issued by local governments and the state for events at which alcohol will be served. The applicant must be of a non-profit nature, a political candidate, local government, higher education institution, or any number of other types of applicants that will not receive any “pecuniary gain.” Legislation introduced this session (HB 16-1092) would create a “special event permit” for marijuana, but the name was about the only thing similar to its counterpart in the liquor code. The legislation has a lot of problems, as introduced, but the goal of the proponents is to create a legal status for licensed retail stores to participate in a convention-style event, at which their product may be sold and consumed. Specifically, they want to create a legal path for the Cannabis Cup held at the Merchandise Mart in unincorporated Adams County at 58th Avenue and I-25. Municipalities are opposing the bill unless a number of changes are made, including a requirement that events are not allowed unless a municipalities specifically approves them. And then there is that whole open and public consumption thing…
Thanks to legislation last year that finally gave definition to the constitution requirement that personal growth of recreational marijuana allowed by Amendment 64 must occur in an “enclosed, locked space,” law enforcement has a means to help reduce diversion to young people, as well as theft or similar crimes. SB 16-080 would extend that same provision to medical marijuana personal grows. Examples from law enforcement show open grows of medical marijuana just yards from schools, and there have been problems with theft and diversion. Some municipalities require enclosed, locked spaces by ordinance, but a uniform statewide standard is appropriate in this case.
Protecting public health and other proposals
There is also a lot of chatter in the lobby about how to ensure that pesticides, otherwise prohibited and regulated by the state, are not used in a manner that endangers public health. While law allows for licensed testing facilities, they have been slow to start and the state has been woefully slow in getting rules and regulations in place. Local governments have been stepping up to fill that void, and some segments of the industry don’t like it. Unfortunately, they have spent the better part of the first quarter of the legislative session trying to figure out how to preempt local authority instead of moving the state more quickly to fulfilling its responsibilities. Whether it be red tape or a lack of resources, the bottom line is that the state must move more quickly if people do not want local governments to take more immediate action to protect the public. While there is legislation that touches on the pesticides issues, none of it directly addresses the problem of lack of speedy implementation by the state.
Other legislation will correct an oversight in last year’s creation of a state license for medical marijuana testing facilities by ensuring that local governments will also be able to license the facilities, just like every other medical and retail license type. A recently introduced bill would add a new type of state and local license for “marijuana transporters.” In this case, it is difficult to contemplate how a local license for a transporter would work if the deliveries are going across municipal and county lines. More investigation of this brand new bill will be necessary.