Colorado becomes second state (behind Alaska) to allow social cannabis.
Westword recently reported that Colorado cannabis advocates finally got their wish this week after Governor Jared Polis signed a bill legalizing social consumption in the Centennial State. Colorado is the second state to legalize social cannabis consumption, behind Alaska, which legalized it in March.
Colorado legalized recreational cannabis consumption in 2012. But, advocates have been unsuccessfully pushing for public consumption via annual bills since 2013.
“Colorado has many tourists and residents who choose to participate [in legal cannabis consumption]. Up until this bill, there’s been no way to have safe public consumption,” Polis told the media before signing the bill. He continued, “I’ve smelled it walking my dog. For many of us with kids, we want to make sure we don’t have that in our neighborhoods.”
Where Will I Be Able to Smoke?
Even after the bill, it’s still probably not a good idea to fire up a joint walking down the street. The bill only allows smoking in licensed areas. This will make life a lot easier for Colorado smokers, and especially for cannabis tourists.
Dispensaries have been open in Colorado since 2013, but visitors have faced a dilemma when looking for a suitable smoking venue. Before this bill passed, visitors could buy cannabis, but most hotels prohibit cannabis consumption.
Starting January 2020, all that will change. House Bill 19-1230 passed the Colorado House on 2 May, only one day before the close of 2019’s legislative session. The bill provides for a licensing regime that will allow businesses to open cannabis cafes, lounges, and dispensary tasting rooms.
The new system will extend beyond traditional cannabusinesses. Colorado residents and visitors will soon be able to buy and enjoy cannabis in venues including art galleries, hotels, restaurants, and yoga studios. Events can also apply for temporary licenses.
The new law will also permit mobile lounges. This will surely be greeted with a sigh of relief from Colorado cannabis tour operators and event organizers, who have faced opposition from local law enforcement.
How Will the New System Work?
Prospective license holders will need to apply via Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. Meanwhile, licensed social cannabis consumption spaces will receive an exemption from Colorado’s indoor smoking law, the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.
Employees in social consumption spaces will be trained to look for signs of cannabis intoxication, just as in bars. The law prohibits sale to customers who are visibly intoxicated. As with bars, businesses will be responsible for making sure that patrons don’t smoke and drive, as well as preventing preventing nuisances to the local community. Moreover, alcohol use will be prohibited in licensed public cannabis consumption premises.
Existing rules surrounding edibles will still apply. So Colorado smokers hoping to enjoy a cannabis-infused meal at their local restaurant will be disappointed.
Setbacks, Delays, and Loopholes
The law will take effect in 2020. However, local governments start the approval process this year. The new program will grandfather existing social consumption establishments in Colorado Springs and Denver. Advocates are already in discussions with other locations, such as Westminster and Moffat County.
While the bill allows for the possibility of social cannabis consumption statewide, businesses who want to cash in may still face some difficulties.
The new law will work on an opt-in basis for local governments. This means that cities and counties must pass an ordinance to specifically allow social consumption inside their boundaries. Local government will also have the power to micromanage the rules for establishments. Some communities could choose to prohibit some forms of consumption. For example, Denver, which has allowed social cannabis consumption since 2017, already prohibits indoor cannabis smoking. This will remain unchanged under the new law.
The patchwork state of local rules means that some operators are waiting to see the results of consultations before progressing, such as Terrapin Care Station, a dispensary operator with locations in Aurora, Boulder, and Denver.
What’s the Reaction in Colorado?
Cannabis advocates in the state have responded to the bill’s signing with delight. Lobbyist Cindy Sovine called the bill “exciting” and the “most expansive bill in the country”.
Sovine continued: “It’s not just an automatic endorsement for an existing [dispensary], either, so it provides a lot of opportunity for new business owners and social equity. With licenses being able to be both mobile and temporary, it allows for more creativity and innovation. Imagine legal consumption on 4/20 being a thing?”
While industry figures are enthusiastic, some authorities are taking a more cautious approach. “We have to make sure we do it safely,” Governor Polis said as he prepared to sign the bill. “We have to make sure we do it in a way that inspires confidence.”
US is Slowly Catching Up
While Colorado and Alaska’s new laws are big steps forward for social cannabis consumption in America, enjoying a joint in public is perfectly normal and accepted further afield, in Barcelona’s cannabis clubs or Amsterdam’s coffee shops. While the US has taken a little while to catch up, it’s certain that, as the public becomes more aware about the safety and benefits of cannabis, the trend will soon spread beyond Colorado.