It's back-to-school day for the Colorado General Assembly: This morning, January 4, state senators and representatives will gather for the start of the 2019 session. They have their lunches packed up, boots tied tight. Let's hope they don't get in a fight...
Nearly 800 bills were introduced last year at the state legislature, with twenty cannabis-related measures ultimately receiving legislative approval. Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed three of those bills, but his two terms are up, and the incoming governor, Jared Polis, has expressed support for expanding the state's cannabis programs. Advocates of the plant have never been more confident in Colorado.
The state's medical and retail marijuana codes will also sunset in September, tasking the legislature with evaluating Colorado's pot laws and regulations and leaving even more room for dozens of expected cannabis-related bills at the Capitol this year. Here are five hot issues we expect to be addressed there in 2019.
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New Qualifying Medical Marijuana Conditions
Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have added autism spectrum disorder to the state's list of qualified medical marijuana conditions. The bill faced little objection in the legislature, passing its final Senate and House readings 32-3 and 53-11, respectively, but Hickenlooper argued for more scientific evidence of cannabis's efficacy in treating autism. Polis, on the campaign trail at the time, quickly vowed to sign a similar bill if presented to him as governor.
Lawmakers and cannabis advocates may also try to add acute pain and conditions treated by opioids to the state's MMJ list in a separate bill, but this effort won't be as easy. State Representative Edie Hooton originally introduced a bill last year that would have put acute pain on the list of conditions okayed for MMJ, with autism added after Hooton spoke with families of autistic children. The autism effort was later broken off into a separate bill and moved swiftly through the legislature, but the acute-pain measure died in committee. Advocates are determined to bring it back.
Social cannabis consumption still hasn't been regulated at a state level, despite recreational pot sales being legal for over five years now. Industry representatives and business owners think 2019 could be the year. Another Hickenlooper veto killed a bill that would've allowed dispensaries to apply for tasting-room permits, but he may have left the door open for an even more expansive measure.
A group of industry lobbyists, tourism companies, lounge owners and dispensary representatives, bullish on their incoming governor, recently announced plans to submit a cannabis hospitality bill to lawmakers in 2019. The bill would create two new business licenses that allow social pot use in a manner similar to the use of alcohol, with hotels, music venues, dispensaries and dozens of other businesses potentially able to apply for private consumption areas.
Despite making its way through the House, a bill that would have legalized a cannabis delivery pilot program died in a Senate committee last year, and that was after recreational delivery was stripped from it. One of the bill's sponsors, Representative Jonathan Singer, expects the bill to be reintroduced in 2018. We still don't know how expansive that bill will be, but we do know that there will be an even stronger push from pot delivery companies already operating in California and Oregon.
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Publicly Traded Companies
Hickenlooper's third cannabis-related veto in 2018 came at the expense of a bill that would have allowed publicly traded companies to invest in state-licensed pot businesses. Calling the move "premature," he believed opening up investment for a federally illegal business without banking access was too risky, and that public trading carries higher chances for fraud in an already-scrutinized industry.
Not surprisingly, the move upset some cannabis business owners and would-be potrepreneurs, who said they'd been working on the measure for years. All of that work is likely to be revisited in 2019, though, with lobbyists and industry reps calling it an essential move if Colorado is to remain competitive with other states that have legalized cannabis.
Merging Medical and Retail Marijuana Codes
Although not as sexy as social consumption and pot delivery, the sunset of Colorado's medical and retail marijuana codes could have big impacts, the biggest of which could be the merger of medical and retail marijuana regulations. The argument for the merger seems logical, done in the interest of copying and pasting certain rules for the parallel industries — but in a 2018 interview, Representative Singer expressed concerns over a "stealth element" that could be used to eliminate the state's medical marijuana market, along with its lower sales-tax rates and patient plant counts.
This is one to watch.