Another year, another long list of victories, defeats and dumpster fires for Colorado cannabis. Social consumption, Sweet Leaf's legal woes and concerns about Jeff Sessions continued to impact pot businesses and consumers, while political wins for Jared Polis and the national hemp industry gave proponents of the plant hope. Here are ten of the biggest marijuana stories of 2018:
Hemp's Big Year
The lesser-known sibling of marijuana finally got its time in the limelight this year, with industrial hemp legalization spreading like wildfire throughout the country. Although legal to farm in Colorado since 2012, hemp became federally legal when President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill on December 20; hemp will be regulated as an agricultural product. Now that hemp can be farmed across the country, the industry is projected to hit $22 billion in value worldwide by 2022. And Colorado, responsible for the most acreage devoted to registered hemp farming in the U.S., looks poised to prosper.
Sweet Leaf Drama
Since Denver police and state regulatory agents raided Sweet Leaf stores last December for allegedly selling more pot to the same customers than state law allowed, the company's owners have been fined and banned from the Colorado pot industry; all of its cultivation, dispensary and extraction licenses in Colorado have been revoked either by the City of Denver or the state Marijuana Enforcement Division; and two of its former executives have pleaded guilty to felony drug charges. We're still waiting to find out whether the owners will face criminal charges, so as we said in 2017: This is a story to watch next year.
Marijuana Deals Near You
Social Consumption Saga
While the legal cannabis timeline has moved at a pace closer to dog years since 2012, one piece of the equation has been stuck in the mud: social consumption. Despite being open for applications since last year, the City of Denver's social consumption program has only issued only two permits, with just one (the Coffee Joint) open as of 2018's close. Meanwhile, the city got entangled in court cases with cannabis tour-bus companies and the International Church of Cannabis over the definition of public and private consumption, and Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would've allowed Colorado dispensaries to apply for tasting-room permits.
Hancock's Mood Swing
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock opposed legalizing recreational cannabis in 2012, and was reputed to have a personal distaste for the plant because of how addiction affected his family. Although his administration has allowed hundreds of pot businesses to open within the city, Hancock was never very vocal in his support of the industry. That changed in 2018, however, starting with his public criticism of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January over the AG's revocation of the Cole Memo. Since then, Hancock has led the creation of a national mayoral coalition calling for federal cannabis reform, and recently issued a city order that could help 10,000 people expunge low-level cannabis convictions. Better late than never, and we mean that!
A New Governor
National publications liked to focus on Jared Polis's sexuality or Jewish faith, but Coloradans were more interested in his policies on health care, energy and the cannabis industry when they elected him as this state's next governor. A strong advocate for legal cannabis while in Congress, Polis said during his campaign that he would have signed three bills Hickenlooper vetoed this session that would have legalized dispensary tasting rooms, opened up pot businesses to more outside investors and added autism to the state's list of medical marijuana conditions. All three bills are expected to be introduced in the legislature in 2019, after Polis takes office. Hello, Governor.
While still AG, Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole Memo and nearly a decade's worth of protective federal guidelines for state-compliant cannabis businesses and users, and he continued to hamper federal cannabis research and bemoan the plant's medical effects through 2018. His tenure ended in November — likely for reasons unrelated to cannabis — much to the pleasure of users around the country.
Can't You Smell That Smell?
This landmark case actually started in 2015, but like anything important in America's legal system, it didn't end until several years later. Two Pueblo County landowners sued a nearby pot cultivation in federal court, claiming the stench from it hurt their property values and horseback-riding businesses. The lawsuit, based on federal racketeering laws, went all the way to a federal jury in October. It could've had serious implications for state-legal pot industries across the country...but the jury dismissed it in under four hours.
A Washington Park couple wound up in hot water with Denver's city attorney over a handful of cannabis plants growing in their back yard. The couple believed they were growing the plants legally because their yard was fenced, but Colorado home-growing laws stipulate that cannabis must be grown in a private, confined space that the public cannot see. Does that mean the couple deserved a lien against their home and threats of random police searches? Such aggressive enforcement by the city still worries cannabis home growers.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Denver Health made a splash in May when it released a report stating that 69 percent of employees at over 400 Colorado dispensaries recommended cannabis to pregnant women — or women they thought were pregnant, anyway. It turned out that "mystery callers" working for Denver Health would tell dispensary employees they were eight weeks pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, and would press for cannabis referrals after initial hesitation. The study (and its methodology) sent a shock wave through the industry, with classes and training programs created to address the complicated ethical situations faced by budtenders.
Retired and Higher
A quick Google search of "senior citizens cannabis" shows pages of articles and studies about the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis consumers: baby boomers. More and more old folks are using cannabis now that the plant's become legal, both for medical and recreational purposes. Colorado cannabis companies have been quick to make a grab for these consumers, with infused-product brands teaming up with medical marijuana physicians and retirement homes to host educational classes about MMJ and arthritis, dementia and other common ailments that come with age.