Colorado's cannabis industry evolved and expanded in 2020, with dispensaries making sales records during the COVID-19 pandemic and local communities opting into new forms of marijuana businesses. But there's still work to be done: Many communities are moving very slowly in approving those new businesses, and industry practices could use an update.
As we move into a new year, here are seven resolutions to improve Colorado cannabis:
Cannabis crime expungement
Last year, Colorado lawmakers were on the hot seat for doing little to repair the harms done by the War on Drugs since rec sales started in 2014, when other states newer to the game had included expungement in their legalization language. The Colorado Legislature began to address the issue by approving a bill that gives the governor the right to expunge low-level marijuana possession crimes (on the last day of the 2020 session, no less), and Governor Jared Polis did eventually use that power, automatically pardoning 2,732 low-level marijuana possession convictions on October 1. More can and should be done, though.
For starters, the pardons Polis issued could only apply to convictions handed down in state, not municipal, courts, hence the relatively small number of records cleared in Colorado, compared to other city and state efforts in California and Illinois. Colorado's number would also have been higher had Polis used his full power. Instead of pardoning those convicted of pot possession of up to 2 ounces (the limit for medical marijuana in Colorado), he chose to clear possession charges of up to 1 ounce, citing the state's current recreational possession limit — but in the immortal words of McConaughey, "Be a lot cooler if you did."
This could be a double-edged sword for Colorado cannabis. The state's arid climate isn't made for achieving perfect marijuana moisture, and trying to retroactively add humidity to flower (or maintain it post-harvest) can create mold problems. And none of that excuses some of the dried turds I've been receiving from dispensaries. Half of the nugs I bought from pot shops in 2020 disintegrated on contact. Not only does that mean that every bowl is going to suck after the first hit scorches the earth, but the dryness also affects the smell, flavor and potency. Colorado weed may always be a little drier than the rest, but we can still do better.
If it feels like you've been reading about pending marijuana delivery and hospitality businesses forever, it's because you have. Despite becoming legal in Colorado in 2020, both delivery and hospitality businesses gained little ground with local governments, which must opt into the programs first. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic blocked some of that progress last year, but local and state officials managed to allow booze in to-go cups fast enough. Now, with dwindling budgets amid a struggling economy, more municipalities are getting interested, and we're likely to see more adopt delivery and hospitality in 2021.
Is it time to give up hope on legal weed maintaining the same price tag for longer than three months? Or is that the literal price we have to pay for a local crop? If the latter, fine, but that's still no excuse for the fluctuation we've seen in marijuana prices since retail legalization. According to the state Department of Revenue, the average price per pound of flower reached a four-year high by the end of 2020, up nearly 25 percent from the start of 2020 and nearly 55 percent higher than the beginning of 2019. All of those numbers mean higher prices at the dispensary, which we consistently saw last year. Now that cannabis suppliers have had time to get used to heightened demand during the pandemic, perhaps prices go back down in 2021. Just don't expect them to stay there.
This is a first-world problem, but anyone who's spent 45 minutes waiting in line at the pot shop just to buy a couple of pre-rolls or weekly gram of hash will understand. Because of state laws, dispensaries must keep their products for sale behind the counter or glass, so that people can’t grab products and throw them down at the cash register — and this is after getting your ID checked in a waiting room or separate area of the store. This causes a lot of lines, especially if a tourist or first-timer is yapping away at the budtender, who's probably hoping to get a nice tip for their help. Let them do that, while those of us who know what we want keep moving. This won't happen for a while — imagine the hysteria of marijuana shoplifters — but it sure is needed.
The marijuana industry could learn a few things from craft brewing, including how to treat its employees, but maybe an easier sell would be more collaboration projects among competitors. Too bad every marijuana business owner thinks they have some magical elixir or technique that can't be shared, and barely any growers or extractors want to work with their respective counterparts. We've had enough time to at least recognize trustworthy peers in legal cannabis, despite the network of shady characters who are still trying to make a quick buck — so why not learn from each other while joining forces every once in a while and let us stoners try out the creation? Collaborative cultivation, breeding or extraction projects between some of Colorado's best would be a sign of evolution, both in industry and culture.
Most growers avoid ever-changing marijuana characteristics by cloning a favorite strain to achieve more consistency, but those breeding new cultivars typically start from seed, assign numbers for the strain phenotypes, and then choose their favorite to be grown commercially. (So, for example, if a breeder had three phenotypes of Purple Kush, they'd be labeled Purple Kush #1, Purple Kush #2 and Purple Kush #3.) But instead of letting us trying just one, why not sell all three and let the customers pick?
Wholesale cultivation Veritas Fine Cannabis actually started doing that in 2020, selling collector boxes with three different phenotypes of the same strain and polling customers for their favorite. KrystaLeaves and Den-Rec sell numerous phenotypes of the same strain, too, offering five or six versions of their favorite cuts for customers to try. Let's hope that trend gains more momentum this year.
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