Somehow topping themselves a day after they approved commercial marijuana delivery, Colorado lawmakers just passed a bill that will allow dispensaries, restaurants, hotels and other businesses to apply for pot consumption areas.
Although marijuana has been legal for recreational use since late 2012, proposals that would permit social consumption businesses in Colorado have failed for six straight years. But on May 2, just a day before the session ends, House Bill 1230 passed through the Colorado Legislature after the House approved technical amendments made in the Senate.
And the wait may have paid off for social consumption advocates: This bill is far more expansive than any social use measure proposed before.
Under this bill, dispensaries would be able to apply for a tasting room license similar to the one used for breweries in this state, while businesses such as hotels, restaurants, music venues, art galleries and yoga studios could apply for private consumption licenses and limited pot sales. Mobile marijuana lounges such as tour buses and limousines would also be licensed but could not sell marijuana. Social consumption businesses would have to apply for a license through the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, and would be exempt from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, a state law that bans public indoor smoking.
“In expanding access to regulated spaces for adults to consume cannabis, we are taking the responsible approach to cannabis consumption in a safe environment,” says Senator Vicki Marble, one of the bill's prime sponsors, in a statement about the bill. “HB 1230 protects the will of voters who asked for the freedom to choose marijuana as an alternative and to curb dealing and use in parks and on the street.”
Governor Jared Polis hasn't spoken about the bill publicly, but social consumption advocates are confident that he will sign it: While campaigning for office in 2018, he criticized former governor John Hickenlooper for vetoing a bill that would've legalized dispensary tasting rooms, and has been a proponent of expanding the state's marijuana and hemp industries.
But there are still some hurdles before pot cafes can open in your town.
Even if Polis signs the bill, local governments would have to opt in to the new licensing program, and could modify it to ban certain forms of consumption, such as indoor smoking. And the City of Denver's social marijuana consumption licensing program, which already has its own location qualifications and bans indoor smoking, would remain unaffected by new stipulations in the bill, unless Denver City Council or the mayoral administration decide to alter it.
Baby steps are common in marijuana policy reform, but determining how a social consumption business can be opened in this state is a big step for normalization. Currently, virtually every social event allowing pot use takes place at a private event or inside a private venue or mobile pot lounge, such as an invite-only party, hospitality tour or members-only club — but all of those models have resulted in legal fights between the business owners and local law enforcement.
“Regulatory uncertainty on the local level has resulted in confusion, prompting the need for a statewide uniform policy,” Terrapin Care Station dispensary chain owner Chris Woods says in a statement about the passage. “This bill creates that uniform policy for licensed marijuana consumption establishments."
That uniform policy would require social consumption businesses to refrain from serving alcohol and prohibit allow anyone under 21 from the area designated for pot use; they would also have to train employees how to monitor marijuana intoxication, and take responsibility for impaired drivers, like bars. Restaurants with social use spaces couldn't just serve gourmet dishes infused with pot, either, as any commercial edible containing THC still has to be made by a licensed marijuana-infused product manufacturer (packaged edibles).
A key faction of the bill's supporters came from the medical marijuana and marijuana tourism communities, with both representing consumers who can have extremely limited options. Because most hotels ban smoking and vaping, tourists are left without somewhere to consume marijuana after legally purchasing it, while many medical marijuana patients live in apartments or government-funded housing that ban federally illegal drugs.
“This bill honors the reality that Colorado consumes cannabis. Patients and consumers have had to hide in the shadows for far too long,” explains Cindy Sovine, a lobbyist and founder of Utopia Natural Healing, a company that holds marijuana wellness events as she tries to open a pot-friendly healing spa. “I got into this to create a community for patients like my dad, who deserve a place to go for education on treatment and for camaraderie."
Colorado towns and counties would be able to start opting in to the social consumption program in January 2020. If Polis signs the bill, Colorado would become the second state to adopt laws for regulated social marijuana use, just over a month after Alaska was the first.