New Law Better Protects Marijuana Industry Employees

Colorado has about 43,000 registered marijuana industry employees, according to the state Marijuana Enforcement Division.
Colorado has about 43,000 registered marijuana industry employees, according to the state Marijuana Enforcement Division. Jacqueline Collins
Colorado's 43,000 marijuana-industry employees now have protections similar to those of business entities when facing compliance discipline.

Signed into law on April 21 by Governor Jared Polis, House Bill 22-1222 allows registered marijuana-industry workers to receive responsible-vendor designations from the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The MED conducts surprise visits throughout the year to make sure businesses are following a variety of rules, including ID checks at dispensaries as well as machine and cultivation inspections at production facilities. For example, the MED may ask an underage customer to attempt to enter a dispensary, and if the person is not stopped, the MED would then levy punishment such as fines or licensing restrictions on the business owner. (In 2021, Colorado dispensaries passed underage checks at a rate of 95 percent, down 2 percent from 2020.)

Businesses that have required employees to undergo responsible-vendor training — a state-approved curriculum for marijuana-industry workers that encourages above-board compliance — can avoid stiffer penalties if they've failed part of an MED inspection. Until HB 1222 was signed, however, employees themselves weren't provided the same protection, often being fired from their jobs and, in some cases, losing their MED badges or being dealt criminal punishment.

"Depending on the circumstances of the incident, selling to an underage individual can result in administrative or criminal penalties for the individual and business, including fines, suspensions or revocation of the license," notes MED communications director Shannon Gray.

The new law, introduced at the State Legislature by Representative Kerry Tipper, now forces the MED to consider whether employees have undergone responsible-vendor training and had the intent to comply with rules when breaking them, according to Colin Mudd, founder of marijuana training provider Konope Compliance.

"The employees don’t have very many opportunities, if at all, to show their individual intent to comply," says Mudd, who originally took the bill to Tipper.

Mudd says two of his dispensary clients, Colorado Harvest and Pure Greens, have utilized responsible-vendor designation as a risk-mitigation approach for years, and he's also had clients who were forced to sign up for the training as part of their MED penalties.

According to Mudd, if an employee works at a business that has a poor history of compliance, individuals can further inform themselves about public health and safety.

“It was important for employees to have that mitigating factor. ... Nine times out of ten, when an age compliance check happens and they fail, the employee is held accountable, as is the business,” Mudd says.

He first wanted safe-vendor designations for employees in 2018, after more than a dozen budtenders at Sweet Leaf, a former Denver dispensary chain, were arrested for selling excessive daily amounts of marijuana to the same customers. The charges were eventually dropped for most of the budtenders, and Sweet Leaf's owners and some executive leadership were convicted after police discovered there was a company directive to sell more than 1 ounce per day — the legal limit for recreational marijuana sales in Colorado — to the same person.

Mudd believes that having individual responsible-vendor designation in 2018 might have given Sweet Leaf employees better context to understand how they were liable.

"That exact situation is the reason why I wanted to get the mitigating factor associated with the employee as well as the store," he says. "What it would have done is allowed the employees to be better informed on the rules and regulations."

The new law helps an employee's chances during background checks, which are conducted every two years during worker badge renewals, Mudd adds. Also, workers can now take their responsible-vendor designations from employer to employer instead of having to undergo the training each time they begin a new job.

"Just like a violation could be associated with an employee's individual license number, the employee now has the ability to show their certificate of completion with responsible-vendor training," Mudd explains.

Employees can attain their responsible-vendor designation now from the same MED-approved training providers that currently certify marijuana businesses.
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