Colorado Marijuana Bills See Varied Success in 2020

Colorado Marijuana Bills See Varied Success in 2020
Jacqueline Collins
Colorado's 2020 legislative session just wrapped up for the year, and several marijuana bills await the signature of Governor Jared Polis.

No one expected this year's session to be as cannabis-sexy as it was in 2019, when the General Assembly approved new laws authorizing marijuana delivery, social consumption businesses and a massive update to industry rules and regulations, such as allowing publicly traded ownership of marijuana companies. This year's session wasn't supposed to be a snoozefest, either, with hyped proposals that would address diversity in pot-industry ownership and statewide expungement of former low-level pot crimes.

Then COVID-19 sent legislators home in April, with a halt on new bills and constraints on the state budget. The expungement bill was expected to be dead until 2021, while efforts to legislate diversity in the state's pot industry dwindled. But in the end, legislators were able to pass a social equity bill that gives Polis the right to pardon those charged with possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, fitting the provision into a bill at the eleventh hour of the 2020 session.

Before the late drama, state lawmakers had already passed measures easing marijuana employment restrictions and business financing, and considered bills that would protect employees from being fired for using marijuana during off-hours and protect outdoor marijuana farmers during weather emergencies — both of which eventually failed.

Here's a breakdown of the twelve marijuana- and hemp-related bills and legislative resolutions introduced at the Colorado General Assembly in 2020 (the summaries come from the text of the bills themselves), as well as their final results.

HB 1080: Remove Residency Requirement for Marijuana License

Prime sponsors: Representative Matt Gray (D-District 33), Representative Kevin Van Winkle (R-District 43), Senator Julie Gonzales (D-District 34), Senator Vicki Marble (R-District 23)

Summary: Under current law, all managers and employees of a medical marijuana business or a retail marijuana business with day-to-day operational control must be Colorado residents when they apply for licensure. The bill repeals this residency requirement.

Status: Passed General Assembly; signed by governor.

HB 1089: Employee Protection Lawful Off-Duty Activities

Prime sponsors: Representative Jovan Melton (D-District 41)

Summary: The bill prohibits an employer from terminating an employee for the employee's off-duty activities that are lawful under state law even if those activities are not lawful under federal law.

Status: Postponed indefinitely by House Business Affairs & Labor Committee.

HB 1150:
Repeal House Bill 19-1263 Penalties for Drug Possession

Prime sponsors: Representative Hugh McKean (R-District 51)

Summary: House Bill 19-1263, enacted in 2019, made changes relating to the offense level for possession of certain controlled substances and sentencing therefore, and enacted the community substance use and mental health services grant program.

The bill repeals provisions enacted by House Bill 19-1263 and reinstates provisions repealed by that act. The bill makes possession of 4 grams or less of a controlled substance listed in schedule I or II a level 4 drug felony, possession of more than 12 ounces of marijuana or more than 3 ounces of marijuana concentrate a level 4 drug felony, and possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana concentrate a level 1 drug misdemeanor.

The bill clarifies that a person may be arrested for the petty offense of possession of not more than 2 ounces of marijuana and that a person may not be sentenced to confinement in jail for a first offense of abusing toxic vapors.

The bill prohibits a court from suspending a sentence to complete useful public service pursuant to the "Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 2013" (act) and requires a court to sentence a person to complete useful public service if the person receives diversion or a deferred sentence. Any person convicted of a drug offense must submit to the fingerprinting and photographing requirements of the act.

The bill clarifies that persons convicted of level 1 or 2 drug misdemeanors related to unlawful use of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana or marijuana concentrate, unlawful use or possession of certain synthetic controlled substances, or abusing toxic vapors are subject to the same sentencing scheme as a person convicted of other level 1 or 2 drug misdemeanors.

The bill repeals the community substance use and mental health services grant program established in the department of local affairs.

Postponed indefinitely by House Judiciary Committee.

HB 1217: Sunset Marijuana Financial Services Cooperatives

Prime sponsors: Representative Matt Gray (D-District 33), Representative Hugh McKean (R-District 51), Senator Dominick Moreno (D-District 21)

Summary: Sunset Process — House Finance Committee. The bill implements the recommendations of the Department of Regulatory Agencies' sunset review of marijuana financial services cooperatives by repealing the authorizing law.

Status: Passed General Assembly; signed by governor.

HB 1328: Outdoor Emergency Marijuana Contingency Plans

Prime sponsors:
 Representative Alex Valdez (D-District 5), Representative Daneya Esgar (D-District 46), Senator Robert Rodriguez (D-District 32), Senator Jeff Bridges (D-District 26)

Summary: By January 1, 2021, the bill requires the marijuana state licensing authority to promulgate rules regarding the process and procedure for filing and approving contingency plans for outdoor cultivation facilities when there is a threat to operations due to an adverse weather event or other catastrophe. A medical marijuana cultivation facility or retail marijuana cultivation facility may file a contingency plan with the state licensing authority and, if the plan is approved, may follow the plan if there is an adverse weather event or other catastrophe.

Prior to January 1, 2021, a medical marijuana cultivation facility licensee or retail marijuana cultivation facility licensee that cultivates marijuana outdoors may take any reasonable and necessary action to prevent or ameliorate crop loss due to an adverse weather event. The action is not a violation of state or local law or regulations unless the state licensing authority or local authorities can show that the action was not reasonable and necessary to prevent or ameliorate crop loss due to an adverse weather event.

Status: Postponed indefinitely by House Finance Committee.

HB1401: Marijuana Tax Cash Fund Spending and Transfer

Prime sponsors: Representative Daneya Esgar (D-District 46), Representative Kim Ransom (R-District 44), Senator Dominick Moreno (D-District 21), Senator Bob Rankin (R-District 8)

Summary: The bill repeals the prohibition on the general assembly appropriating the bulk of the money from the marijuana tax cash fund until the year following the year that the revenue is received by the state. Instead, the general assembly will be permitted to appropriate the money in the fund in the same year that the revenue is received, subject to the same reserve requirement. This change immediately increases the uncommitted balance in the fund for state fiscal year 2020-21, and the state treasurer is required to transfer $136,989,750 from the fund to the general fund on October 1, 2020. The reserve is also clarified in light of this change.

Passed General Assembly.

HB 1424: Social Equity Licensees In Regulated Marijuana

Prime sponsors:
 Representative James Coleman (D-District 7), Representative Matt Soper (R-District 54), Senator Julie Gonzales (D-District 34), Senator Vicki Marble (R-District 23)

Summary: In the "Colorado Marijuana Code", the bill changes the term "accelerator licensee" to "social equity licensee" and alters the qualifications. A social equity licensee may participate in the accelerator program on the premises of a retail marijuana licensee whereby the social equity licensee receives assistance from an experienced retail marijuana licensee. The bill expands the accelerator program to include a retail marijuana store licensee. A retail marijuana licensee participating in the accelerator program and a social equity licensee may be entitled to incentives from the department of revenue or the office of economic development and international trade.

Status: Passed General Assembly.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell