The draft of a bill to be introduced in the Colorado Senate next week proposes such momentous changes to the marijuana industry that it has prompted suspicion that industry players are writing policy to line their pockets.
The bill, which appears to be a sweeping and controversial overhaul, seeks to change licensing procedures and ease pesticide restrictions. It was drafted by Republican Colorado State Senator Randy Baumgardner, in tandem with the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and the trade organization Marijuana Industry Group. The changes could put regulation and licensing Colorado’s marijuana industry in the hands of a few potentially high-profile, pro-big business individuals, and take the regulatory process away from the state’s larger enforcement division.
“I’ve heard a couple people argue that we knew that this was going to happen,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said of the draft proposal. “That the profits coming from the marijuana industry would sooner or later push certain members of the industry to put profits above the safety of the public, and I think that’s a dangerous place for the industry to be in.”
Perhaps the most disconcerting piece of the draft legislation is that it would allow operators to remediate or ‘clean’ marijuana or marijuana products tainted by illegal pesticides; current law requires commercial marijuana found to have traces of illegal pesticide be destroyed.
The proposal would also allow growers to use an exempt pesticide that is labeled safe for human consumption under federal law. Right now, the Colorado Department of Agriculture does not recommend the use of any pesticide on marijuana, and has strict regulations regarding the use of pesticides for commercial marijuana production. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who is a staunch opponent of pesticide use in commercial marijuana production, told the Durang Herald, “Some of the ones they use we can say with certainty are dangerous. If I was counsel for the marijuana industry, I would argue, you don’t want to take any risk at all.”
Lawmakers in the Colorado Senate have major reservations about the draft legislation proposal, as it was crafted with input by only the two industry groups.
“We have up to this point operated largely in a transparent, collaborative role with the industry," Hickenlooper said. "This particular omnibus really came out of nowhere and hasn’t gone through that process.”
Thus far, the legislation process for marijuana lawmaking in Colorado has by-and-large been a transparent process that included multiple marijuana advocacy and trade groups.
Marijuana Industry Group, which the Denver Post calls “the leading voice for the industry in Colorado,” has been in hot water before for appearing to rig the game in their favor, drawing some ire from would-be marijuana start-ups in Denver last year after defending a moratorium that stopped granting licenses to new retailers, though MIG director Michael Elliot stated “it appears the number of businesses is in line with market demand.” The Marijuana Enforcement Division is strict in granting licenses to retailers in order to maintain quality control of marijuana in the state.
The drafted legislation would grant exclusive authority to a five-member commission board appointed by Colorado’s governor to enact rules and regulations governing the marijuana industry in Colorado, as well as issue licenses to retail and medical marijuana retailers. Under current law, those rules and licenses are enacted by MED, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. The Department of Revenue would have no authority to challenge rules made or retail licenses granted by the five-person commission.
It is unclear how the proposed move would affect licenses granted to prospective marijuana retailers or how MIG and the CCCC would benefit from the move, but if the draft proposal were to eventually become law, there is potential for appointed commissioners to come from lobby groups such as MIG.
The draft also includes a provision similar to the recently nixed House bill 16–1092, which would allow marijuana retailers to throw street festivals and public events and sell marijuana, edibles and other products at those events.
Colorado, which has the most pro-marijuana laws in the country, has raised record revenue—$88.2 million—in the last fiscal year, according to the MED’s annual report. The Colorado State Assembly recently approved legislation allowing prescribed use of medical marijuana in schools.
(Photo Courtesy of Quartz)