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Colorado Cannabis Legislation Round-Up

Updated: May 6, 2019

We’re a quarter of the way through 2019 and in an industry like cannabis, things are constantly changing. New laws have come into effect, others have been proposed, and everyone in this industry is constantly working to stay up to date on the ever-changing landscape.

Here is a quick round-up of what’s happening in Colorado’s cannabis legislation.

Check out the updates as well - legislative session ended in May 3 and some last minute votes changed the landscape of the Colorado cannabis industry, including social consumption, marijuana delivery service, publicly traded company ownership and the sunset bill that modified all marijuana laws and regulations! We have our work cut out for us following this legislative session but together, we are making history.

Medical Marijuana Autism Bill 1028

In early February of this year, a bill that adds the autism spectrum disorder to Colorado's list of medical marijuana conditions passed the House of Representatives. The Colorado Senate, then, passed House Bill 1028 at a rate of 31 to 4 in mid March.

The bill hit several roadblocks on its way into law, including a veto by former Governor John Hickenlooper and extended timeline due to a requirement for further research by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on the effect of medical marijuana on autism.

This is a huge win for parents of autistic children who lobbied for this kind of change for years. The bill is now heading to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who campaigned on his support for this type of bill and has previously expressed that he would sign it into law.

Colorado is now on its way to join 14 other autism-friendly cannabis states and Puerto Rico who either include autism as a qualifying condition, or allow a doctor’s discretion to recommend medical cannabis for debilitating conditions such as autism.

Publicly Traded Marijuana Companies Bill 1090

The cannabis growth has attracted a slew of entrepreneurs and startups, but it’s also piqued the interest of savvy investors looking for a cash cow to round out their portfolios.

In March 2019, the Colorado House Finance Committee unanimously approved HB 1080, which would repeal previous provisions. The bill would eliminate the requirement for passive investors to undergo a background check and abolish the limit of out-of-state investors (which currently sits at 15).

Likely, the most attractive aspect of the bill is that it would allow publicly traded entities to hold marijuana licenses in the state, opening up the possibility of publicly traded marijuana companies.

A similar bill was approved by the house in 2018, only to be vetoed by the former Governor John Hickenlooper. With cannabis-friendly Governor Polis in office, 2018 Bill 1011 has been reshaped and reimagined as Bill 1080.

Cannabis advocates say the bill will allow greater investment flexibility in marijuana businesses, allowing the industry to continue to grow and flourish.

Update: This Bill has passed the legislature and is awaiting signature from the Governor - hopefully it won't get vetoed like last year!

Social Consumption

Alaska recently became the 1st state in which it is legal to both purchase and consume marijuana under the same roof. Clearly, Colorado is falling behind.

It all stems from Denver's Initiative 300 pilot program, which has only elicited 2 licenses in 2 years. Now, the local industry along with advocates like Social Use Avengers are taking a new approach.

House Bill 19-1230 was introduced into state legislation in early March of this year, and is looking to create a more regulated system for cannabis consumption in any social setting.

Entitled “Marijuana Hospitality Establishments,” the bill would allow licensed cannabis hospitality establishments, where there would be limited on-site sales and consumption, beginning as soon as 2020.

The bill establishes completely new requirements and prohibitions for these marijuana hospitality spaces, including cannabis tours, and also provides amendments which would exclude them from the Colorado Clean Air Act.

This would be a tremendous milestone for the Colorado cannabis industry that could impact other states and territories the way Amendment 64 did in 2012.

While Governor Jared Polis has actively spoken in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, this bill first needs to get through the House and Senate.

Update: This Bill has passed the legislature and is awaiting the Governor's signature. Let's hope he signs it so we can again lead the nation and give Coloradans and adult visitors a place to lawfully consume their constitutionally-protected cannabis!

SAFE Banking Act

Although the SAFE Banking Act (HB 1595) is a federal bill, it has major implications for Colorado cannabis companies. The House Financial Services Committee, served by both Democrats and Republicans, voted for the bill, which will now go on for a full floor-house vote.

This bill would solve many of the banking issues marijuana businesses currently face. Advocates for the bill believe it will increase safety and transparency for businesses currently operating on a cash-only basis, for both their operating and payroll costs.

Many believe the bill will be approved in the House, which is currently Democrat-led, but may face challenges in the Republican-led Senate.

In its current form, the bill would only apply to states in which marijuana is legal, relieving banks, insurance firms, and other businesses of the federal implications of working with a marijuana business while cannabis is still federally classified.

If passed, this bill would further improve the landscape for cannabis companies allowing them access to business basics that all other industries currently have at their disposal.

Employment Discrimination Reform

Although marijuana has been legalized medically for 68% of the US and recreationally for 20% of the country, marijuana reform still lags behind.

In Colorado, multiple attempts by NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) have been made to submit a house bill that revamps how the current employment laws are interpreted.

Currently, in Colorado, state law provides employees with protection from discrimination or unlawful termination, unless said employees are criminals.

For example, employees cannot be fired for participating in lawful activities outside of work. However, because marijuana is still federally prohibited, consuming it can be deemed an “unlawful activity”.

This allows employers to drug test employees and fire those who legally consume marijuana “off the clock”.

Organizations like NORML have proposed bills that would clarify the law to reflect the state-level legality of marijuana. But, they need a lawmaker to sponsor this legislation to turn it into law. The problem in Colorado isn’t employer drug testing, it’s the interpretation and execution of those results.

This legislation shifts the reliance of employer drug testing from simply finding trace amounts of a legal substance (consumed outside of work hours) that doesn’t affect an employee’s conduct to determining if marijuana truly impaired the job performance of an employee, which is certainly just grounds for termination.

Learn more about employment discrimination reform and add your voice to the cause.

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