Marijuana Legislation in Colorado in 2017 – Business as Usual

Five years after Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana, legislators are focused mostly on business questions for the new industry, although they are considering bills about health and law enforcement as well.

Marijuana has made a big financial impact in Colorado. State taxes on marijuana are expected to bring in $187.2 million to the state’s coffers in the 2016-17 budget year, according to the March 2017 revenue forecast from legislative council staff.

Two bills this session address marijuana and health. Senate Bill 17 would add post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder to the list of conditions for which a physician may recommend medical marijuana for treatment. It passed the Senate 34-1 and then passed its House committee. It is now in the full House for final approval. 

Research on marijuana as a treatment for PTSD is mixed. However, 23 other states have PTSD on their lists of permitted conditions, and CHI expects Colorado will become the next.

SB 25 directs the Colorado Department of Education to create a bank of curriculum materials for marijuana education in elementary and secondary schools. It also calls for the department, along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to provide technical assistance to school districts in designing age-appropriate curricula. SB 25 passed out of the Senate in February on a 35-0 vote and is awaiting a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Human Services committee. 

Marijuana Business Bills

Marijuana businesses are getting a lot of attention this year. House Bill 1034, signed by the governor last month, will align medical and retail licenses. Two other bills would create marijuana membership clubs (SB 184 and SB 63), where people could consume marijuana in public. SB 63 was defeated, but SB 184 passed the Senate on a 25-10 vote and passed its first hearing in the House Finance Committee on March 20. It is now in the full House for final approval.

State law neither explicitly permits nor prohibits marijuana clubs. Some towns in Colorado allow private clubs, and Denver voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 to establish a pilot program allowing businesses to create public marijuana consumption areas.

SB 184 would permit membership clubs if a locality opts to allow them. Although the bill enjoys bipartisan support, Gov. John Hickenlooper has expressed opposition unless the bill excludes indoor smoking. There has also been a spirited conversation in SB 184 hearings about the definition of “open and public use” of marijuana. For example, the current definition of open and public use in SB 184 would likely prohibit use of marijuana on a person’s front porch if it can be seen from the street.

Law Enforcement Bills

Another theme in this year’s marijuana legislation is public safety and law enforcement. HB 1220 aims to prevent diversion of privately grown marijuana to the illegal market and away from the legal, taxed-and-regulated system. The bill, with bipartisan sponsors from both chambers, limits the number of marijuana plants on a single residential property. The bill has made it through the House and the Senate. 

HB 1221 creates a grant program to provide $6 million for gray- and black-market marijuana enforcement, giving priority for rural governments with limited money for policing. Funding would come from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, and Hickenlooper supports the measure. The funding would help pay for investigation and prosecution of unlicensed marijuana cultivation, along with other assistance and support. 

Marijuana-related legislation is now a staple in each session of Colorado’s General Assembly, as legislators continue monitoring, regulating and evaluating this market absent federal guidance.

However, new signals are coming out of Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump repeatedly expressed a pro-business stance on the campaign trail, even mentioning the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana nationally and reiterating that retail marijuana legalization is an issue best left up to states to decide.

However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a long history of opposing marijuana legalization. He has indicated the potential for stricter enforcement and prosecution of federal controlled substances laws —  a departure from the previous administration’s stance.

It’s unclear how the Trump administration will handle the eight states that legalized retail marijuana or states that are contemplating the decision.

Stay tuned for a new CHI brief about the impact of retail marijuana in Colorado. Back in 2014, CHI explored policy questions related to legal retail marijuana. Issues included regulating the marketplace, limiting youth access, setting rates and revenue targets and creating a structure for research and learning. Now, with several years of data behind us, we are getting ready to answer many of those questions and explore a few new ones.

Teresa Manocchio joined the Colorado Health Institute in January 2017 as a policy analyst. At CHI, she researches and analyzes issues that impact population health, including behavioral health and other public health priorities.