Colorado's legal marijuana structure may be mature compared to the setups in other states around the country, but we're still going through some growing pains.
Marijuana delivery, industry diversity and social equity, consumer rights and the potential dangers of commercial pot potency could all come up at the State Capitol this year, and the medical marijuana program might be in line for changes, as well.
As lawmakers gear up to officially convene mid-month after their brief January gathering, here are five marijuana issues to watch for in 2021:
A bill legalizing marijuana delivery passed in 2019 and has been slowly implemented since then, with medical delivery allowed in 2020 and recreational delivery finally allowed this year. However, only a handful of towns have opted for delivery so far, and that slow trickle could continue if the legislature holds discussions about amending the law for further protections against warehouse delivery networks, also known as the dreaded "Amazon model." Any entity that wants to sell pot products through delivery must have a dispensary license, but that doesn't necessarily preclude a business from obtaining a license and conducting most, or virtually all, of its sales through delivery. The original delivery bill's proponents argue that state and local regulations could still prevent warehouse delivery networks, but there might be a legislative push from factions within the pot industry to cap the volume of marijuana delivery sales by a dispensary, which would likely come in the form of a percentage limit.
The new target of anti-marijuana and youth prevention groups, marijuana potency could come under fire in the legislature this year, but how aggressive those efforts might be hasn't been determined yet. A bill floated by Representative Yadira Caraveo would ban any form of legal marijuana, recreational or medical, testing over 15 percent THC, as well as any marijuana concentrate containing "a known human carcinogen" and any marijuana suppositories, flavored vaporizer products, inhalers and other pot products. The bill hasn't been introduced yet, but has already drawn the ire of the marijuana industry, and probably wouldn't get enough support to go very far as currently written. However, the potency issue could end up becoming very real for the marijuana industry, either in a revised version of Careveo's bill or another measure from a different lawmaker.
Medical Marijuana Access
If Caraveo ends up pursuing everything in her bill, potency won't be the only target. Medical marijuana access and the structure of the state MMJ program would also drastically change if her proposal is successful; she includes a requirement that medical marijuana patients only be allowed to purchase a pre-designated dosage and allotment of certain products decided by a physician, similar to a drug prescription. The bill also proposes closer tracking measures on patients and their purchases, as well as medical dispensary operations.
No longer a slow-burning issue at the Capitol, the effort to spread marijuana-industry profit among communities affected by the War on Drugs gained traction in 2020 and hasn't slowed down. State lawmakers passed a bill creating a social equity applicant definition for marijuana business owners at the very end of last year's legislative session in June, opening a path for more programs, funding and initiatives in 2021. We know that lawmakers will be considering $4 million in funding for grants, low-interest loans and technical assistance for qualified social equity business owners, but there could be even more on the table, including separate social equity efforts in the hemp industry, possible re-entry programs for marijuana offenders, and a more robust record-sealing program for past marijuana charges.
A cause championed by medical marijuana groups and consumer advocates, protecting marijuana users from being fired for failed drug tests has continued to be a struggle in Colorado, where employers are still allowed to fire workers for testing positive for THC. A Colorado Supreme Court case affirmed the state's position in 2015, and a 2020 bill protecting Colorado employees from being fired for marijuana use off the job was killed in the measure's first hearing — but two prominent marijuana lobbying groups say they are pushing for similar legislation again this year, and they could have an open ear at the Capitol. Based on how quickly the bill died in a Democrat-majority legislature last year, though, its chances could be slim.
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