Lawmakers Consider Ending Residency Requirement for Marijuana Workers

A budtender works the cash register inside an Aurora dispensary.
A budtender works the cash register inside an Aurora dispensary. Jacqueline Collins
Traveling for work is a requirement of some jobs, but commercial cannabis employees traveling to Colorado from other states face an unusual obstacle: They must be shadowed and registered as a "visitor" at all times while working.

Colorado cannabis regulations mandate that anyone with a marijuana industry badge — a working badge required of all pot employees in the state — be a resident. Originally written when Colorado was the only state with recreational pot, the rule was intended to limit out-of-state diversion and black market activity.

As the cannabis industry matures and more and more states legalize the plant, companies located in California, Nevada and even Canada are entering the state, while Colorado pot brands continue to expand outside of our borders. According to industry representatives, the influx of multi-state businesses has highlighted an unnecessary restriction placed on visiting workers brought in to train new staff or set up new business ventures, such as growers, extractors and dispensary general managers.

"This is the only industry, to our knowledge, that has residency requirements for employees and managers," explains Terrapin Care Station communications manager Peter Marcus in a statement. "And with Colorado being the leader for the cannabis industry, many pioneer companies here have expanded into other states. Employees and managers should be free to apply for occupational licensure in the respective states in which they work. It’s honestly as simple as that."

The residency requirement could end this year if the state legislature passes House Bill 1080. Introduced by Representative Matt Gray (D-Broomfield), the bill would end residency requirements for cannabis employees living in other states and allow them to apply for a license to work in Colorado. They would still have to undergo a background check; the measure would not allow employees to use their licenses or badges from other states.

"The goal is not to diminish the standard of what it takes to get a license — it's still the same standard — but if your company operates in Colorado and Michigan and your company wants to fly in someone from Michigan once a month, they could do that," Gray explains. "A lot of businesses have regional employees that don't have rules about access to premises. If you have restaurants in five states, you don't need five licenses to go into a kitchen to show someone how to cook. We have tighter control on cannabis, and that makes sense, but this [rule] doesn't make sense."

The bill wouldn't affect Colorado's current residency requirements for business owners, which specify that at least one registered owner of a cannabis company be a resident of the state for at least one year. But more than just growers and general managers would be affected, Marcus adds.

"Plant-touching is most important, of course: budtenders, growers, marijuana-infused-product workers, packaging, production, etc. That said, it doesn’t have to be limited to that," he explains in an email. "Government affairs directors, communications professionals, compliance directors, sales directors: They all often are badged because they enter facilities, work with quality control/assurance [and] give tours to officials. Sometimes employees are badged simply out of an abundance of caution. So, it could impact every level of the company, minus ownership."

Cannabis businesses that aren't currently located in Colorado, such as consulting firms for cannabis production, could also benefit from the bill.

Over half of the eleven states that have legalized retail marijuana have residency requirements for ownership, including Colorado. Illinois is the only other state with residency requirements for all badged cannabis employees.

The bill's first hearing is set for February 4 before the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
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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