Dispensaries may get to apply for cannabis tasting-room licenses as early as August if Governor John Hickenlooper signs a bill that just cleared the Colorado General Assembly. Approved by the House on Thursday, May 3, HB 1258 would allow qualified pot shops to obtain accessory establishment licenses for product consumption.
Creating a system similar to those that allow brewery and winery tasting rooms, the bill would make it possible for dispensary patrons to visit a separate room or area by the dispensary to vaporize cannabis flower and concentrates or eat edibles in a controlled environment. Although the proposal wasn't without opposition, it passed through the Senate relatively unchanged after earlier amendments in the House. If Hickenlooper signs the bill, it will be the first piece of legislation in America that licenses public pot use. (The governor's office has yet to release its position on the bill.)
The Colorado State Patrol, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and Smart Colorado vocally opposed the bill at every turn, citing concerns about impaired drivers, secondhand cannabis vapor and potential exposure to children. Despite their efforts, the bill passed its final reading 40-25, to the joy of dispensaries that had pushed the legislation, such as Terrapin Care Station and LivWell Enlightened Health.
"We are thrilled to be moving the needle on cannabis reform in America by being involved and supporting legislation that creates a statewide cannabis public consumption law in the State of Colorado while also respecting the needs of local communities," Terrapin Care Station communications director Peter Marcus says. "We have a framework now to regulate this on a statewide level, and it will allow us to wrap our heads around what's needed next."
The state Marijuana Enforcement Division, which would be charged with ironing out some of the bill's rules, such as purchasing limits and state implementation, through future stakeholder meetings, has remained neutral on the bill, but has also called it an incremental approach worth pursuing over cannabis lounges and social clubs.
Under the measure, Colorado dispensaries would need approval from both state and local governments for tasting rooms, and no pot shops within 1,000 feet of a jurisdiction banning cannabis sales would be allowed to apply. Customers could only consume what they purchased during their dispensary visit, with suggested use limits set at one gram of flower, 0.25 grams of concentrate and a ten-milligram edible — though that could change with stakeholder input.
Tasting rooms would be required to have ventilation systems and separate entrances and exits from the shopping areas, but that's not enough for R.J. Ours, government relations director for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. According to Ours, secondhand vapor from electronic dabs and hash pens is dangerous to inhale. "We need to be clear: What we're talking abut here isn't water vapor; these are chemicals, like aerosol, being emitted from these electronic devices," he says.
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Ours and other bill opponents say that cannabis consumption should be confined to private spaces, pointing to language in Amendment 64 — the legislation that legalized recreational cannabis in Colorado — that prohibits "open and public" use. But cannabis advocates and lawmakers have been searching for a way to resolve the public-use issue as tourists and Coloradans alike struggle to find places where they can consume outside of their homes or pot-friendly hotels.
If the governor signs the bill, municipalities and counties would have to opt in on the tasting room program, and they would be allowed to tailor the program to fit any local regulations, such as Denver's Cannabis Consumption Establishment Program, which lets non-cannabis businesses apply for private consumption areas.
Ours, who has already made calls to the governor's office asking Hickenlooper to veto the bill, says that if the governor signs the measure, his organization will "double down" on its efforts to get local governments to oppose the program.
Marcus, however, plans to do just the opposite. "Anybody who wants to have this in their community will have to start to working on their local governments," Marcus explains. "If a local government opts in, then the dispensary can apply for an endorsement."