Medical marijuana industry-related bills alive in House and Senate

A Colorado House bill that would create a marijuana responsible-vendor program in the state moved through a second Senate reading Monday without any amendments, paving the way to final approval on a third reading. If passed -- which seems likely at this point -- HB 1061 would allow the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division to approve responsible medical marijuana vendor programs. The proposal doesn't require dispensaries to participate in the programs, though. The designation is purely voluntary.

The bill doesn't really define "responsible," but it does set some minimum guidelines for what the programs have to teach -- including licensing, regulations and basic customer interactions, such as checking marijuana registry cards. If a center's employees pass through the program, they can receive state-approved certification that they're "responsible."

The bill's sponsor, Representative Dominick Moreno, says similar programs exist in other industries, including the bar business. But critics charge that it could become yet another step in the already burdensome medical marijuana licensing process.

Moreno's bill isn't the only industry-related proposal being considered at the Capitol this year.

Currently, Colorado tax returns are based on federal taxable income -- but you can't deduct marijuana business expenses on a federal return, because marijuana is still illegal at the national level. Therefore, deducting business expenses from a state return is not allowed. In January, Representative Daniel Kagen introduced HB 1042, which would allow medical marijuana dispensary owners to deduct business expenses from their state tax returns. The bill would apply to anyone licensed to work in medical centers, grow facilities, pot kitchens and testing labs. It would also cover recreational businesses if/when those are approved.

After it was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee in early February, however, HB1042 stalled. Since the bill has a "bit" of a general-fund impact in terms of reduced revenue, and will cost something to implement, a committee staffer explains, it cannot be heard until the state budget is approved. That should happen in the next few weeks.

SB12-051, introduced by Senator Randy Baumgardner, would require an annual inspection of commercial grow operations and caregiver gardens by the MMED, which is under the Department of Revenue; those inspections would cost the growers $100 a year. While commercial centers for both medical and recreational cannabis are targeted, the financial impact statement attached to the bill says the real aim is to go after private caregivers and hold them responsible.

But the bill itself notes that there are only a dozen primary caregivers registered with the Department of Revenue -- and many growers argue that such inspections aren't necessary, since the Colorado Constitution only requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to keep that data. Even more worrisome to them is the fact that the bill, which has stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would also give fire departments access to the confidential medical marijuana patient database stored at the state health department.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana from Colorado illegal in Kansas, court rules: More fuel for profiling?"

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes

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