Marijuana gained a very vocal opponent in January in Jeff Sessions, the country's new attorney general. Though Sessions has yet to make good on his word to end legalized cannabis in the U.S., he alludes to it constantly, making a lot of cannabis-industry folks sweat. Sessions isn't marijuana's only perceived enemy. Medical marijuana users and growers went on the defensive after Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill limiting how many plants they could grow.
Marijuana news of 2017 wasn't all negative, however. A report showed that consolidation in the industry is on the rise, a sign of its prosperity (depending on how you look at things), and Colorado officially deemed PTSD a condition treatable by medical marijuana.
And as of late December, Sessions had yet to touch our marijuana industry. We consider that a win. Keep reading for more of the biggest marijuana stories in Colorado this year.
1. Jeff Sessions!
The attorney general has been the cause of pot entrepreneurs' nightmares since taking office in January, making remarks and moves to tamp down the rising support for federal cannabis legalization. In April, the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to Sessions, asking him to respect states' rights and to consult with state governments operating under the Cole Memo. In June, MassRoots reporter Tom Angell published a letter that Sessions had sent to congressional leaders asking them to undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which grants federal protections for medical marijuana. Sessions has continued his anti-marijuana crusade, supported by dubious statistics and anecdotal science.
2. The saga of social cannabis consumption continues.
Social marijuana consumption licenses were approved by Denver voters in November 2016, but the drama didn't really begin until 2017. The city established a committee to implement the new initiative, and the fights took off from there. Location restrictions, required ventilation, neighborhood-association approval, and dual consumption of pot and alcohol were just some of the contentious points brought up during committee meetings. Rules were finalized in June, and the city began accepting applications in August. However, proponents of the initiative say those rules don't reflect its intent, and they charge that location restrictions will kill the program's chances of succeeding. As of December, the city had received only one application for a social consumption permit.
3. The state shrinks home grows.
The state Senate unanimously approved HB 1220 on March 29, lowering the number of plants a medical patient or caregiver can grow in a residential area. Senator Bob Gardner sponsored the bill to cut down on outsized grows, which could become tools of cartels, he said at the time. Although residential recreational grows are capped at twelve pants, medical patients and registered caregivers were allowed up to 99 plants unless local rules dictate otherwise. Hickenlooper signed the bill into law in April, with many medical marijuana advocates, caregivers and patients saying it was a greedy attempt to squeeze them out.
4. The 420 Rally gets messy.
What a long, strange trip the Denver 420 Rally has taken this year. After a disastrous gathering at Civic Center Park that included long security lines, broken fences and overflowing trash cans, 420 Rally organizers Miguel Lopez and Santino Walter were banned from applying for an event permit for three years. Lopez, Walter and their attorney, Rob Corry, appealed the ban in September, but the appeal was denied in November. During the appeal, Euflora dispensary owner Pepe Breton sued Walter's production company for unpaid debts related to the rally and had a Euflora employee camp outside the Denver Parks and Recreation building every day until the department began accepting event-permit applications in an attempt to take over the permit. Early on November 21, Michael Ortiz — a known associate of Lopez — snagged the permit in a foot race to the application window (as seen in an excellent breakdown by 9News ), with Euflora representatives very vocal about their displeasure with the city's handling of the issue. Ortiz's attorney, also Corry, threatened to send Euflora a cease-and-desist letter in early December, and Lopez recently filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver after losing his appeal. We don't blame you if you're confused; we're still sorting through the bullshit, too.
5. PTSD becomes a qualifying MMJ condition.
Governor Hickenlooper signed SB17 into law on June 5, finally adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions treatable by medical marijuana. PTSD sufferers, military veterans and medical marijuana advocates had lobbied the state since 2006 to include the affliction. The Colorado Board of Health rejected a petition in 2015 that would have added PTSD to the list of qualified conditions, despite a recommendation from Colorado Chief Medical Officer Larry Wolk. At the time, boardmembers cited a lack of peer-reviewed studies and clinical trials, saying that anecdotal evidence and testimonies were powerful but required further justification. Advocates ultimately went around the board, right to the State Capitol.
6. Southern Colorado's got a crime problem.
From June to October 2017, the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office seized more than 8,000 cannabis plants at allegedly illegal grows associated with foreigners. In June, the Denver Post reported that former state marijuana enforcement officer Renee Rayton, facing fraud allegations in a separate incident, was indicted in connection with a suspected illegal pot trafficking ring that allegedly operated throughout Colorado and had operations in Colorado Springs.
7. The industry consolidates.
In June, the Marijuana Business Daily reported that one in three Colorado dispensaries is a chain retailer, and the chains have only grown since. Native Roots, the Green Solution and Green Dragon, three of the state's largest dispensary chains, have all opened new stores or received new dispensary licenses this year.
8. Hickenlooper's marijuana special session crashes and burns.
On October 3, a special legislative session called by Governor Hickenlooper to fix a gaffe in a new law pertaining to marijuana taxes crashed and burned. The centerpiece of the drama, SB 17-267, wrongfully replaced a 2.9 percent tax on recreational marijuana with a special pot-tax boost, and some special districts were barred from collecting the new tax revenue as a result of the error. The Republican-controlled Senate stopped the governor after questioning the precedent that the special legislative session would set. As a result of the gaffe, the Regional Transportation District is estimated to have lost $560,000 per month since the law took effect on July 1, and Denver's Scientific & Cultural Facilities District, which includes every large museum, the zoo and the Botanic Gardens, was hit for around $56,000 monthly over the same period. Now the legislature won't be able to address the funding issues until the 2018 session.
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9. Mark Pedersen is accused in Jack Splitt's death.
In September, a little over a year after the death of Jack Splitt — the fifteen-year-old namesake of Jack's Law, a landmark bill that allowed young medical marijuana patients in Colorado to take their cannabis-based medication at school — the man who made medication to help Splitt was arrested in relation to his death. Mark Pedersen, who made cannabinoid-infused suppositories that helped alleviate Splitt's pain from cerebral palsy-related complications, faces five felony pot possession and manufacturing charges in Jefferson County. Pedersen's attorney argues that there is no evidence that the MMJ medication harmed Splitt in any way, suggesting instead that the death occurred after nurses' errors led to a phenobarbital overdose.
10. Denver Police raid Sweet Leaf stores.
The cannabis industry was dealt a collective shock on December 14 when the Denver Police Department raided eight Sweet Leaf dispensaries in Denver and Aurora over year-old allegations of illegal marijuana sales. The first round of arrests, stemming from undercover officers purchasing more than the daily one-ounce limit of marijuana from Sweet Leaf shops, netted thirteen budtenders, and Sweet Leaf's 26 cultivation, processing and dispensary licenses in Denver were suspended. (Aurora and Thornton were still undecided on the chain's fate in those cities.) None of Sweet Leaf's owners have been arrested, and reports of more search warrants and arrests continue to come in. This story will definitely bleed into 2018.