Some big changes could be on the horizon for commercial marijuana if the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies gets its way. The department's recent sunset review of the medical and retail marijuana codes includes some recommendations that could bring pot-industry regulations closer to the modern age. Among the suggestions: loosening restrictions on hemp products and streamlining license renewals.
Sunset reviews are done by the Colorado Legislature to determined the effectiveness of state programs; lawmakers and state officials then use the reports when deciding whether to continue or change the programs. The 2018 marijuana review conducted by DORA solicited input from a variety of entities, including local governments in Aurora, Boulder and Colorado Springs, the Colorado Department of Revenue and the Colorado Attorney General's Office, as well as over a dozen other state and public health departments and various marijuana advocacy groups.
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If you're smoking a joint and paranoid that the legislature might decide to revoke Colorado's marijuana industry, relax: At the top of the report's recommended actions is the continuation of both medical and retail marijuana programs through 2029. In the meantime, DORA would like to see Colorado's medical and retail marijuana codes meld into one by 2020 for the sake of efficiency, but suggests that certain regulatory differences be continued for the sake of MMJ patients and businesses.
"Maintaining two distinct codes that regulate the same substance in a substantially similar manner is inefficient and creates compliance difficulties," the report reads. "Therefore, the two codes should be integrated into a single code that builds on the provisions of the Retail Code, yet retains certain differences."
In an interview with Westword last month, Representative Jonathan Singer discussed the possible melding of the two codes.
"There's also been a lot of talk about harmonizing medical and recreational marijuana," he continued. "I think there's some really positive thoughts about what this might do: If there are regulations that are working really well for recreational or medical, then why not copy and paste?" he said. "But there is a stealth element we need to consider about what that could to do to eliminate our medical marijuana markets. There are some people who are wondering why we don't tax medical marijuana the same way we tax recreational marijuana, and that's because we don't tax medicine in Colorado. But I could see harmonizing turning that into a bargaining chip, and that's something we need to be concerned about."
The sunset review also calls for easing the restriction on hemp-based products sold in dispensaries. Current state law bans marijuana dispensaries from selling any consumable product without THC in it — but many CBD-heavy products are made from hemp instead of licensed marijuana. If approved, DORA's recommendation calls for the state Marijuana Enforcement Division to allow dispensaries to sell hemp products without THC, but also asks that those hemp plants 'enter the regulated system and be tested.
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Besides loosening the rules regarding hemp, recommendations include making a greater effort to consolidate license categories and ease license renewals, as well as adopting further restrictions against license applicants with criminal backgrounds.
Lawmakers and Marijuana Enforcement Division officials will consider the sunset review as they start planning for the next legislative session and for potential regulatory updates.
Here's the full report: