Colorado Marijuana Laws
If you are under 21, It is illegal to purchase, possess, or use cannabis, unless you have a Medical Marijuana Card from the state of Colorado prescribed by a doctor. You will need a government-issued identification to prove you are 21 years or older. Valid forms of identification include, a driver’s license or passport. It is illegal to: use marijuana in public spaces; to take cannabis out of the state or cross state-lines in possession of cannabis; and to share cannabis with anyone under 21 years of age.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Possession
If you are 21 years of age or older, you can legally possess 1 ounce of “THC” in Colorado. This means that in addition to marijuana flower (dry herb), you can also have other types of concentrated and edible forms of marijuana in your possession. You can also buy Cannabis seeds in Colorado, without being a Colorado resident.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Purchasing Limits
Although any adult is allowed to possess and purchase up to 1 ounce of THC. This recently has been extended to non-residents of Colorado.
You can also mix and match what you buy (flower, edibles, concentrate, etc.) as long as the total equals 7 grams or less for a non-resident or 28 grams or less for a Colorado resident. For example, 10 100mg edibles equals 1 gram, so you could buy 5 grams of flower and twenty 100mg edibles. Additionally, 1 gram of concentrate is equivalent to 1 gram of bud, so you could buy 2 grams of flower, twenty 100mg edibles and 3 grams of wax or shatter.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Store Hours
The state allows marijuana stores to operate from 8AM to midnight. Cities can implement more restrictive hours than the state allows. Denver stores are required to close by 7PM. If you are arriving in Denver after 7PM, check out the stores in Edgewater, which are open until midnight. Another option are stores in city of Aurora, which are open until 10PM.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Consumption
There aren’t any coffee shops or marijuana bars like you might find in Amsterdam that legally allow on-site consumption. However, there some new ‘private’ cannabis clubs where you can buy a day membership. These clubs are relatively new and hopefully they are successful. Some allow indoor smoking since they are “private,” others just allow inside vaping and outside smoking.
If you are consuming cannabis in public in Colorado, just be considerate of others around you and use proper discretion. Denver Police have increased citations for public consumption. In fact, in the first three quarters of 2014, Denver Police issued 668 public consumption citations.This amounts to a 470% increase from the same period in 2013, when 117 citations were issued.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Don’t drive under the influence
A new DUI law in Colorado has set a legal limit (5 nanograms per milliliter of blood) for the amount of active THC you can have in your system while driving. This law was fiercely debated, the main issue being that people metabolize THC at different rates and the amount of impairment varies drastically for each person. If the police do suspect you are driving stoned, they can require you take a blood test. Refusal to do so can result in similar penalties as refusing a breathalyzer test, such as loss of license.
The law does allow for a defendant charged with driving under the influence of marijuana to introduce evidence that pot did not impair their ability to drive. This is a last ditch strategy, but the best advice is to drive sober. In 2014, 354 people received marijuana only DUIDs in Colorado. If you find yourself in need of legal representation for a marijuana DUI, we recommend Jeff Gard from Gard & Bond.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Transporting Cannabis
It is illegal to possess marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle if it is in an “open container,” a container with broken seals, or if there is evidence of consumption. However, it is a bit unclear what exactly defines an “open container,” so once again, use your best judgement and don’t be careless.
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Exporting Marijuana
Just don’t do it. The Feds are watching Colorado (and neighboring states) closely, and bringing cannabis back to your home state has the potential to give the DEA and Feds reason to crack down even more.
Mailing stuff home is also a bad idea. U.S. Postal Service inspectors seized 207 packages of marijuana being sent from Colorado through the mail in 2013. In 2014, 320 packages of marijuana were seized. Compare these numbers to 2010, when only 15 packages were intercepted. Be smart as the postal inspectors are setting up shop and keeping a close eye on packages being sent from Colorado. Read the prohibitionists report here – September 2015 – PDF
Colorado Marijuana Laws – Federal law and properties in Colorado
When you are visiting national parks, national forests, or monuments, or other federal properties such as courthouses, your right to possess marijuana DOES NOT apply. You should also know that many ski areas are located on federal land (mainly just the actual ski runs, not the towns or base of the mountain.)
Possession of marijuana on federal land is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000 on the first offense, along with a 15-day mandatory sentence that can be extended to two years in prison for a second offense. After that, perpetrators can receive a 90-day to three-year prison term, and a $5,000 fine.
The A-to-Z Guide to Legalized Marijuana in Colorado
Everything you need to know (and probably much, much more) about Colorado’s grand experiment with legalized recreational marijuana.
At midnight on January 1, Colorado will become one of two states in the nation to open legalized retail marijuana stores. The “dot-bong era” will be messy, chaotic, and potentially lucrative—one projection has the American marijuana market growing faster than the smartphone sector in 2014. But no one knows exactly what this revamped reality will look like (and if they tell you they do, they’re probably stoned).
To make sense of it all, we’ve put together this A-to-Z guide to the legalized marijuana marketplace—from fun facts to some of the perks we can expect, as well as the hiccups, speed bumps, and setbacks we’ll most likely face as we wind our way through this more enlightened era. Colorado voters passed this law to grant our state’s adults some groundbreaking rights, and how sensibly we address the responsibilities these budding freedoms bring will reveal whether marijuana’s advocates have been clear-eyed all along—or just blowing smoke.
More From The Issue
Rates of U.S. marijuana use
past-month marijuana users in the United States
daily or near daily users of marijuana in the United States
percent of people age 12–17 in the United States who currently use marijuana
percent of people age 18–25 in the United States who currently use marijuana
percent of people age 26 and older in the United States who currently use marijuana
percent of people age 12–17 in the United States who said it would be fairly or very easy for them to obtain marijuana
change in regular marijuana use from 2007–12
change in past-year heroin use from 2007–12
percent of Americans who support legalizing marijuana in 2013 (up from 41 percent in 2010)
percent of Americans who think we spend more than it’s worth to enforce marijuana laws
Last summer, Denver auditor Dennis Gallagher’s office released a scathing report revealing serious shortcomings in the city’s oversight of the medical marijuana (MMJ) industry. Among many problems cited were spotty record-keeping, inconsistent licensing, and poor coordination with the state Department of Revenue. The damning audit emboldened legalization opponents, who argue that Denver’s inefficiencies with MMJ oversight bode ill for its ability to run the legalized market, and it was a primary reason the city has been so deliberate about setting up the new rules.
One of the MMJ industry’s biggest headaches has been the difficulty dispensary owners have had finding banks that will accept any aspect of their business. Because banks are federally licensed, they risk running afoul of RICO laws, which were designed to combat organized crime and prevent banks from handling money earned from illegal activities. (In October, Governor John Hickenlooper and Washington Governor Jay Inslee formally asked the federal government to grant legal marijuana businesses complete access to banking services, and as of press time, the feds seem amenable to finding a compromise that might allow certain banks to begin working with the industry.) Keeping the rules as-is could result in security risks. “If they’re going to let these [legalized marijuana] businesses move forward, they shouldn’t be known as people who have large amounts of cash on them at all times,” says Christian Sederberg, a partner at the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC. (Two months ago, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel Jack Finlaw revealed that the state has been allowing dispensaries to keep firearms on their premises—contrary to federal guidelines—because of the risks associated with running a cash-only business.) Simply exempting certain banks from the current regulations would likely result in even more potentially dangerous activity. “Unregulated banks would just be an invitation to launder money,” says Annmarie Jensen, a lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP). “But we still have all this cash floating around, so there’s no way to solve this without the federal government changing something.”
Neutralizing the stranglehold cartels have had over illegal drugs for the past several decades often is the first thing marijuana activists cite when arguing for legalization. But because weed remains illegal federally, businesses that have been sanctioned by Colorado still can’t access the banking system (see “Banks”) or tax deductions that “normal” companies enjoy. The cash-only corner they’re painted into could sustain the influence of organized crime; others have argued that overtaxing legal marijuana could produce the same result because black market prices will be cheaper (see “Taxes,” page 98). Moreover, if the industry, working with the state, can’t establish systems that can thoroughly track the amount of weed grown and sold, the incentive to skim product and sell it illicitly will remain.
A cigar that’s been hollowed out and refilled with marijuana. The rapper Snoop Dogg has claimed that he smokes about 80 of these per day, which seems a little excessive. (Also known as: dutchie.)
The substance created when marijuana is cooked with butter or oil, which is then used to make pot brownies, candy, and other edible concoctions. If you’re just throwing buds and leaves into the mixing bowl, you’re doing it wrong. (Also known as: weed butter, green butter.)
The groups that, by and large, have been charged with determining whether and how legalized marijuana will be allowed into their towns. Some councils, such as Denver’s, have opened their doors; some have already banned recreational marijuana outright—regardless of whether or not their voters supported Amendment 64 in 2012. Most are taking wait-and-see approaches. Denver’s city council has drafted extensive rules around where, when, and how pot shops will be able to operate; in October, it also debated further restrictions on the public consumption of pot, similar to open container laws for alcohol. Boulder, of all places, has proven to be one of the most stringent cities so far. “While embracing legalization, Boulder has also been very strict about regulating and enforcing it,” says CACP lobbyist Jensen. “They’ve made it clear to the marijuana community that you can come here, but you better play by the rules, and they’ve kicked out some people.”
A letter released in June 2011 by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole that stated the government would not use its “limited federal resources” to prosecute medical marijuana providers who were following their respective states’ laws. Cole’s office released a second memo in August 2013 stating that—in the wake of legalization in Colorado and Washington state—federal law enforcement priorities would focus on, among other things, preventing the redistribution of marijuana to children, drug cartels, and other criminal enterprises, or on enforcement in states where the drug has not been legalized. Although some marijuana advocates say they see the announcements as an assurance that those who comply with state laws won’t be prosecuted over federal statutes, the feds are remaining open-ended enough to allow the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and others to resume prosecutions if too many people or businesses flout the new regulations.
Controlled Substances Act (CSA)
Passed in 1970, the CSA is the federal law that lists marijuana alongside drugs such as heroin, LSD, and MDMA (ecstasy), classifying them all as Schedule I drugs—substances that have a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” By virtue of this designation, weed is officially considered to be more harmful than Schedule II drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, opium, and oxycodone, but extensive medical research—along with good ol’ common sense—contradicts this. Many have suggested that moving marijuana into a more appropriate category would enable the federal government to reprioritize marijuana prosecutions without drastically changing its existing laws.
Denver police make about 3,200 DUI arrests per year, and about 100 of them are for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). Officials expect that number to rise by about five percent once legalization goes live. However, in 2011, researchers from University of Colorado Denver and Montana State University found that traffic fatalities declined in states where medical marijuana had been legalized, a fact they attributed to more people choosing marijuana over alcohol. (Other research has shown prescription drug use among American teens during the past few years to be declining as well.) DUID testing also has been imperfect so far because THC lingers in your system long after the buzz is gone. If police start handing out tickets today to people who were high yesterday, the resulting costs and legal snafus could create an entirely new set of problems.
With the emergence of medical marijuana came the boom in edible cannabis, from candy to brownies to cooking oils. These products appeal to people who can’t or don’t like to smoke, or who want to be discreet in public. Depending on the edible and its level of intoxicant, these THC delivery systems can provide the entire range from a pleasant, light buzz to heavy sedation. One drawback: Edibles sometimes have inconsistent quality and potency, and the onset and duration of their effects varies widely. Colorado has established new testing and labeling requirements that aim to remedy the unpredictability.
Man With a Plan
Ryan Cook dresses like any other startup guru: pressed shirt, rolled-up sleeves, designer jeans. It’s a fitting uniform for the general manager of the Clinic, a chain of six medical marijuana centers, because Cook’s resumé looks a lot like the typical Silicon Valley success story.
Formerly an architect, Cook nabbed some prime commercial space when he entered the bud business in 2009; among the Clinic’s storefronts is one in the sizzling-hot Highlands Square. He’s owned all his marijuana grows from day one, so when subsequent state MMJ rules required vertical integration—the mandate that no more than 30 percent of a dispensary’s product comes from outside growers—he avoided any awkward shotgun marriages with unfamiliar grow facilities. Instead, he hired a commercial farm manager, which may be why Cook’s early crops thrived when many others suffered.
Now he oversees an 85-employee business that offers health care and other benefits. One of his products, which come in nitrogen-sealed packs, nabbed first place at the 2012 and 2013 U.S. High Times Cannabis Cup. Cook figures to be a major player in a business some have called the “next great American industry.” (The consulting firm See Change Strategy said in 2011 that national marijuana sales could grow from $1.7 billion in 2011 to $8.9 billion by 2016.)
This new form of reefer madness is so promising, would-be investors have already descended upon Colorado looking for funding
opportunities, even though the state has set strict residency requirements for weed entrepreneurs, and only pre-existing dispensaries will be able to open retail shops before 2016. These restrictions didn’t dissuade almost 70 people—about 90 percent of them from outside Colorado and nearly twice the number who attended a previous gathering—from showing up at a recent event in Denver for marijuana investors that was sponsored by the ArcView Angel Investing Network.
Cook himself is ambivalent about legalization. Despite the head start he has as an established dispensary owner, two of his Clinic locations are in Lakewood, which passed a one-year recreational pot store moratorium. And while his other stores are in Denver, which will allow retail shops, the city council approved store operation and advertising rules only two weeks before the application process began, giving Cook little time to finalize any expansion plans.
He concedes he has it better than most small medical marijuana businesses facing hefty licensing fees, municipal bonds, and security and inventory upgrades before they can enter the recreational market. “If you’ve been struggling already, it must feel like you are climbing the Alps,” he says. It’s also why he says we haven’t yet seen the pot-shop consolidations some predicted: “This isn’t the time when speculators feel real excited about making decisions.”
Still, he says once business settles down next year, the corporate power plays will begin. Will the Clinic be involved? In a word, Cook says, “Absolutely.” —Joel Warner
Developing brains: Anyone younger than 21, and possibly younger than 25, is more vulnerable to marijuana’s effects than those with fully formed adult brains.
Drawbacks: Most adults who use marijuana once or occasionally suffer no harm whatsoever.
Driving: Although marijuana use can impact motor skills and reaction times, it has not been proven to cause an increase in traffic accidents.
Health problems: Researchers have never uncovered a link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer, even among heavy users, although it can cause problems such as bronchitis.
Kids being kids: States where medical marijuana is legal report no greater increase in teen usage rates than states where weed is still illegal, and in 2012 more teens reported smoking pot than smoking cigarettes (23 percent versus 18 percent).
Medical benefits: In a February 2013 survey, 76 percent of physicians said they would approve of a breast cancer patient using marijuana to relieve pain. Marijuana has been shown to relieve chronic pain, improve mobility, and ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It also helps alleviate nausea—thus aiding with weight maintenance—among patients with conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Some parents of children with epilepsy have recently moved to Colorado specifically to access the drug, and its effects on one young patient prompted CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta to publicly renounce his longtime opposition to medical marijuana.
Mental illness: Marijuana use has been shown to have a potential connection to developing psychosis in those who are already genetically predisposed to it.
Netherlands: Usage rates in Holland—you know, where Amsterdam is—are similar to those in the United States, and Dutch teens use weed less frequently than American kids.
Slippery slope: There is no proof that marijuana causes criminal behavior or is a so-called “gateway” to harder drugs.
Toxicity: Although factors vary by user and circumstance, marijuana is widely held to be far less harmful than alcohol, tobacco, or other recreational or prescription drugs.
Co-ops are informal groups of marijuana growers who pool resources to produce the product, a la community gardens. They can avoid Amendment 64–related regulations by sticking to the limit of six plants per person, thus maintaining their status as personal providers. Some observers claim these folks comprise as much as 50 percent of the overall market and that they grow everywhere from their own basements to gardens set up in large shared spaces. Under legalization, more people may be emboldened to “grow their own,” thus avoiding the taxes attached to retail pot, because possession is no longer forbidden. This would create a relatively unregulated “gray” sector of the market that would be welcome to many marijuana users (because of the lower costs) but undermines the intent of garnering more tax revenue and regulating sales and distribution of the drug. Such a scenario could also invite more federal scrutiny of co-ops and retail operations alike. “Co-ops are legal under the medical marijuana system,” says Kristen Thomson, a lobbyist with Thomson Public Affairs, a firm that represents dispensaries. “You’d have to assume they’re flirting with disaster [by flouting federal law], but they have been for four years and nothing’s been done to change it.”
Resin from the flowers of a marijuana plant, processed into powder or a tarlike form. Hash has THC concentrations of up to 60 percent, or about twice that of typical weed.
Medical dispensaries will now either:
1. Remain entirely medical
2. Convert to a hybrid model in a shared space, charging different prices for its medical and taxable retail products
3. Convert to a hybrid model with separate entrances, product displays, and shopping areas
4. Convert entirely to retail
Note: Retail owners must go through a public hearing process before city officials to ensure compliance. Starting in 2016, the hearing process will be required of all new businesses.
The marijuana species that creates the so-called “couch-lock” high: full-bodied and soothing. In the MMJ world, indica-based strains are prescribed to relax muscles, relieve pain, and help patients sleep better.
One of the reasons people sometimes refer to marijuana as a miracle drug has nothing to do with getting high. Legalization means some farmers will begin growing industrial hemp, which can be used to develop products as varied as textiles and cooking oils. Although hemp seeds are still illegal federally, the THC content in industrial hemp is minuscule. California has already passed a law legalizing it and is awaiting a Cole Memo–type approval from federal officials. (Although Colorado won’t begin granting hemp-production licenses until 2014, hemp farmers have already planted and harvested crops here for the first time in 50 years.)
January 1, 2016
The date on which new recreational marijuana businesses can begin applying for state licenses, provided the owners have satisfied all other eligibility requirements, including, but not limited to, establishing residency and passing criminal background checks. Until then, only existing medical marijuana businesses will be allowed to enter the legalized market in Colorado.
There are hundred of synonyms for marijuana; here’s a sampling.
Acapulco gold, ace, airplane, Angola, Astroturf, atshitshi, Aunt Mary, baby bhang, bale, bamba, bammy, black bart, black gunion, bo, bomber, boom, broccoli, bud, canamo, cheeba, chemo, Christmas tree, chronic, coli, Colombian, Colorado cocktail, dew, ding, dinkie dow, djamba, doob(ee), earth, elephant, el gallo, endo, esra, fatty, flower, frajo, ganja, gash, gauge butt, giggle smoke, gong, grass, green, gunga, haircut, hay, herb, hooch, instagu, jay, Jane, jive stick, jolly green, juja, kali, kaya, ki, kind, krippy, kush, loaf, lobo, loco weed, lubage, M.J., macaroni, machinery, Mary Jane, mooster, mootie, O.J., Panama cut/gold/red, pod, pretendo, Queen Anne’s lace, reefer, rip, rope, root, scissors, scrub, sezz, skunk, splim, swag, sweet Lucy, Texas tea, torch, trees, wheat, white-haired lady, yellow submarine, yesco, zambi, zol
Depending on your perspective, Sabet is either a forward-thinking drug policy wonk or a rigidly disingenuous charlatan. The co-founder of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) and a former adviser on President Barack Obama’s drug policy team, he’s been the point person of a nationwide effort to slow or abort legalization efforts. His occasionally alarmist pitch focuses primarily on protecting children from marijuana—an admirable goal shared by many Amendment 64 advocates—but he’s frequently cherry-picked studies that support his views while ignoring broader research that would make it tougher for his group to perpetuate myths about the drug’s effects. Among other things, he’s denied its medical benefits and exaggerated its potency and addictiveness rates. Sabet also has advocated policies that could result in more draconian penalties for drug users, such as mandatory drug education classes for adults arrested for marijuana possession.
Colorado is setting rules for labeling both edibles and smokeable marijuana. Producers and sellers may need to include info about the production facility, pesticides and herbicides used, warning statements, nutritional information, and THC levels and potency. Edibles also will be monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In many ways, this is the linchpin for the recreational marijuana industry. How well the process works and is coordinated between state departments will largely determine how warmly received legalized marijuana is by citizens, law enforcement, and the federal government. Related endeavors such as testing and tracking also will be licensed by the state, and Colorado will perform background checks for owners and employees and has established residency requirements for owners and investors.
If there’s money involved, the lobbyists can’t be far behind. Legalized weed has created unprecedented opportunities for advocates on all sides of the issue. In July, the Denver Post reported that such groups spent $183,000 on the issue in April and May alone and more than $330,000 in the past year, with pro-marijuana groups outspending their opponents almost five to one. (However, the individual group that spent the most was the anti-legalization Smart Colorado, which ponied up at least $56,000 in 2012.) To compare, the state oil and gas industry spent about $1 million in lobbying here during the first 10 months of fiscal 2013.
What will legalization’s impact be on crime rates and general disorder? Though more data is needed, marijuana-related criminality likely will be neither as innocuous as the pros believe nor as bad as the antis fear. But it’s difficult to know where the truth lies: In July, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey alleged that a dozen MMJ-related homicides and “hundreds” of robberies in the metro area had received scant attention from the press or the public. When challenged to clarify his statements, Morrissey backtracked, calling the figures “loose,” and admitted that none of the alleged murders had occurred at MMJ facilities. What we do know is marijuana-related crime during the MMJ era—both here and in California, which legalized MMJ 17 years ago—has not been markedly worse.
$12,000,000 – Estimated immediate savings post-legalization to Colorado law enforcement, including police, judicial, and correctional budgets
Although the MMJ business still has unresolved issues around oversight of dispensaries and doctors (see “Oversight,” page 96) the industry’s performance between 2010 and 2012 satisfied enough people to help pass Amendment 64. In fact, the higher prices retail marijuana will command are likely to increase business for medical providers whose customers would rather not pay the retail taxes. Says Sederberg, “There’s a lot we learned from the medical system, but there’s also a lot we can do to make [retail] better.”
Addiction: Although this is a favorite claim of the antis, marijuana has never been proven to be physically addictive, and dependency rates for the drug are far lower than for nicotine, alcohol, and “hard” drugs.
Casual use: There is no evidence that moderate marijuana use has any lasting negative effects on otherwise healthy people. And a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver recently said that while use of marijuana among American teens has risen in recent years, it cannot be attributed to the legalization of medical marijuana in certain states and its use may actually help reduce binge drinking among young people.
IQ: Anti-pot activists like to claim that marijuana use lowers intelligence over time, but such contentions usually arise from a single study, conducted in 2012 in New Zealand, that has since been disputed. Moreover, Dutch high school students rank far higher than American teens in math and science despite marijuana being widely available in Holland for the past three decades.
Medical benefits: Anyone who says these don’t exist is simply wrong. Among many other things, marijuana relieves pain and nausea in cancer patients, eases eye pressure in glaucoma sufferers, soothes the muscle spasticity common to multiple sclerosis, and increases the appetites of people with “wasting diseases” such as AIDS and dementia.
Memory: Research has shown that an increased tolerance for marijuana actually can reduce negative effects on cognitive functions such as memory and reasoning.
Mental illness and cancer: Although it’s true that marijuana use can trigger depression or schizophrenia among those who are already predisposed to mental illness, particularly for adolescents, it cannot cause these conditions in otherwise healthy people. There is a similar lack of evidence that marijuana causes any type of cancer; in fact, recent research has shown that it may stunt the growth of or even shrink certain cancerous tumors.
Overdose: There are no documented cases of death resulting from overuse of marijuana, primarily because it would be impossible for any normal user to consume an amount large enough to result in one’s untimely demise.
Potency: Weed today may be more powerful than it was a few decades ago, but the increase is nowhere near as steep as the 10x figure claimed by people such as Sabet (see “Kevin Sabet,” page 94). And the higher potency leads to less consumption, not more, because it provides the same effects with a smaller amount.
Violence: This one is straight out of Reefer Madness. Marijuana does not lead to increased violence among healthy users. Period.
One of the most legitimate concerns about legalized marijuana comes from outside Colorado’s borders. In August, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA), a Western law enforcement network, revealed that in 2012, highway police nationwide made about 275 seizures of marijuana, totaling about 3.5 tons, that were traceable back to Colorado—compared to 54 seizures in 2005. And in 2011, Colorado-grown weed seized by the St. Louis division of the DEA surpassed the amount it confiscated from California for the first time. Marijuana activists say legalization should help mitigate that if taxes don’t drive prices too high, but the truth is, a certain amount of black- or gray-market activity is likely—which is a great argument for why law enforcement efforts should zero in on the most egregious scofflaws rather than everyday users and rule-abiding sellers.
If this were a line item on a medical marijuana report card, it would read, “needs improvement.” In addition to the negative reviews from Denver auditor Dennis Gallagher’s office (see “Audits,”, state officials have faced up to a nine-month backlog of background checks for dispensary employees. They’ve also been criticized for a toothless approach to regulating medical marijuana doctors, some of whom have either spotty credentials or have done a shoddy job of screening potential patients. These physicians won’t be a factor in retail operations, but if the state can’t assure law enforcement and the public that it’s minding the store, broader sentiment could turn against the pro-pot movement.
This fall, the Denver city council momentarily threatened the weed biz when it considered outlawing “open and public” marijuana consumption, possibly even in one’s own backyard. Thankfully, the modified “sniff-test” ordinance should mimic alcohol’s open container laws, so you can carry weed discreetly (but not smoke it) in public and consume it in your home or on your property—including on your front or back porch.
In one of the key rules adopted to assuage the feds, Colorado officials have decreed that out-of-state customers can only buy a quarter-ounce (about $100 worth) at a time, which should make it difficult for non-Coloradans to amass large quantities to try and sell elsewhere. (Colorado residents can buy and possess up to one ounce of the drug at a time.)
Typical medical marijuana prices in Colorado. Amendment AA will add at least 25 percent to each of these at a retail store.
If Genifer Murray, founder and CEO of CannLabs Inc., seems to be in good spirits, it might be because her three-year-old marijuana testing facility is about to see business explode. Currently, Murray estimates that six percent of the Colorado MMJ industry uses her services to gauge products for potency and contaminants. That number will likely skyrocket, as the state’s retail marijuana rules will require strict testing.
CannLabs’ facility off South Colorado Boulevard is currently quadrupling to 2,000 square feet, giving Murray even more reasons to smile. But when it comes to what CannLabs’ tests have discovered, she turns serious. “Consumers just don’t know what’s in this stuff,” she says.
Murray says her company has found that many growers and sellers exaggerate their amounts of THC, the psychoactive component of pot, and cannabidiol (CBD), one of the most medically beneficial parts of the plant. Murray cites one edible product she tested that claimed to contain 300 milligrams of CBD but in fact had just 16 milligrams. “It’s like paying for Vicodin and getting sugar pills,” she says.
Mislabeled potency might result in simple buyer’s remorse, but some other products CannLabs evaluates raise questions of public safety that are key to ensuring the federal government leaves this burgeoning state enterprise alone. For example, butane hash oil, a concentrated form of cannabis, has been shown to contain butane remnants and other hazardous chemicals. (It can also be dangerously explosive during processing.) And bubble hash, which is made with water, can incubate bacteria. In fact, CannLabs has found traces of mold, salmonella, and E. coli in certain products—contaminations that create the type of negative PR no industry wants.
Murray’s advice to wary consumers? Stay away from the chemically processed stuff, such as hash and hash oil, and look for label claims backed by a testing facility, all of which have to be licensed. That, and don’t just go for the products touting sky-high amounts of THC. After all, potency doesn’t equal quality. “When they want a drink,” Murray says, “most people don’t just go and buy Everclear.”
Additional rules and guidelines expected to be enacted in Colorado:
1. Businesses can cultivate and sell medical and retail weed under the same roof but must divide, label, and charge for the products according to the respective laws.
2. Business owners who violate licensing requirements could face fines up to $100,000 and suspension or forfeiture of their licenses.
3. There will be restrictions on hours of operation, but they have yet to be determined.
4. Applicants for retail licenses must be Colorado residents for at least two years before applying, and investors in growers or retailers must be state residents for at least three years.
5. Edibles must be sold in child-resistant containers.
6. Advertising will be limited in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco: No billboards, no marketing to minors, and no advertising in publications or on radio and TV stations with at least 30 percent of readers/listeners/watchers who are under 21. Marijuana sellers also can’t buy out-of-state ads or promote pot tourism.
Prohibition against marijuana has clouded research about its effects. As Sanjay Gupta, M.D., wrote earlier this year on cnn.com, most of the research documenting the benefits of pot was conducted between 1840 and 1930, before the “reefer madness” scare overwhelmed public sentiment. According to Gupta, although more than 20,000 research papers have been published more recently, only about six percent of them investigate marijuana’s benefits. Because the plant is federally illegal, the only place in the United States to obtain the drug for research is at the University of Mississippi, which hosts a government lab but doesn’t grow enough sanctioned marijuana to distribute to outside researchers. The weed at Ole Miss is used in studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, whose anti-pot agenda is implicit in its name. Until marijuana is reassigned out of the Schedule I category of the CSA, independent researchers will be left to find their own plants to study—and risk federal prosecution for doing it.
The strain that results in a more energetic high. Sativa-based strains are prescribed for conditions such as depression, and it’s often favored by those seeking to fuel their creativity and ingenuity.Smart Colorado – An in-state ally of Project SAM that has played an influential role in establishing many of the regulations approved by Governor Hickenlooper’s task force, including public hearings, licensing, labeling, and child protection requirements.
Types of marijuana, either indica or sativa or some combination of the two (known as “hybrids”). Growers are constantly experimenting with blends that are designed to address conditions including nausea, sleeplessness, seizures, and muscle pain. Note: All strains are not created equal; like any other crop, they’re subject to fluctuating weather patterns and to the whims and quirks of the growers themselves. So that Trainwreck or Bubba Kush you loved the first time you bought it might not pack the same punch in the next batch—all the more reason to shop around for a knowledgeable vendor.
An over-the-counter herbal product, aka “spice,” that’s made nefarious headlines recently for triggering ER visits and even death among its users, most of them under 21. It can cause users to become agitated and violent—precisely the opposite effect of real marijuana—and should not be used under any circumstances. State and federal lawmakers have banned numerous brands in the past and are considering additional bans or restrictions.
The group assembled by Governor Hickenlooper to recommend rules and guidelines for the newly legalized market. The 24-member panel includes advocates and naysayers alike, as well as officials from government, law enforcement, and community groups. In March, it issued 58 recommendations around all aspects of retail marijuana production, distribution, and sales.
On November 5, Colorado voters easily approved Proposition AA by a margin of 65-35. This win for marijuana advocates establishes a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax on all retail sales. (Cities may also add additional sales taxes, as Denver has.) Although some have warned that excessive taxation could drive weed right back into the criminal black market, the “tax the hell out of it” sentiment—and its promise to fund public school improvements—is likely what motivated undecided voters in 2012 to support Amendment 64. And this fall’s raucous, grungy, showy anti-tax demonstrations, which featured handouts of free joints in public gathering spaces, didn’t help the anti-tax sponsors’ cause. And as the Durango Herald reported in October, while tax rates will be higher for marijuana than for alcohol, the overall revenue the state will net annually—after school construction funds are subtracted—will be about the same for each substance.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, the substance in marijuana that gets you high by stimulating brain cells to release dopamine. THC consumption can trigger relaxation and heightened senses, but it’s also been suspected to cause schizophrenic relapses in people who already have the condition.
Seed to Sale
One way to keep the black market at bay will be thorough monitoring of marijuana production and sales. If it sounds impossible to follow a tiny seed from its first dip into the soil to its ultimate over-the-counter sale, take heart: The technology to accomplish this already exists. Reid Hanson is founder and president of Cairnstack Software, maker of LeafTrack. His company has long made agricultural tracking products for farmers and has now adapted its tools for the marijuana business. “We can track what it costs to produce a gram and where that gram goes,” Hanson says. “And we’ve added tools that allow consumers to scan QR codes and find out where to get more of the same product.”
Although this sounds like exactly what state officials need to satisfy the new laws, Hanson’s company has had no luck with the state, whose cross-department IT systems are notoriously primitive. “We tried giving one application to the state, but it’s been met with resistance,” he says. (Colorado rolled out its own two-pronged inventory- and sales-tracking system in October.)
Hanson has gained more traction with business-minded marijuana vendors—despite their often inherent aversion to data tracking—because the software vividly illuminates which growers are most efficient and where a business can start to save money. And for those who worry pot entrepreneurs might try to illicitly skim even more profits from their products, Hanson says they can’t be any worse than certain mainstream farmers. “A lot of shenanigans go on in regular agriculture,” he says. “They tend to ‘lose’ a lot of products at cash-only farmers’ markets.”
In September, the international administrative body voiced concerns that legalization in Colorado and Washington may violate the drug control treaties the United States has signed with other nations. But the treaties only apply to national laws, so states in a federated system like ours won’t be affected, and the U.N. has limited enforcement options anyway. Still, the organization will be monitoring U.S. legalization closely.
Will Denver become the next Amsterdam? That’s the dire concern of some and the fervent hope of others. Nascent pot tourism companies have already quietly started planning, even if they can’t open for business just yet. With some 60 million tourists visiting our state annually, it’s a good bet that 10 to 20 percent of them are weed friendly. More tax revenue from increased sales certainly seems like a good thing, and the rules around purchasing limits and exporting should ensure that we don’t become a way station for lowlifes. But anyone who fears that Colorado will turn into the place where stoners choose to hang (and spend their money) might want to consider one simple fact: It already is.
A “pipe” that uses intense heat to release THC vapors, allowing users to smoke without inhaling some of marijuana’s harsher and potentially harmful substances, thus offering a “cleaner” high. Vaporizers vary widely in size, price, and quality.
War On Drugs
No matter what your political stripe might be, arguing that our 30-year war on drugs has been anything other than an abject failure is absurd. The “war” has resulted in constitutionally dubious practices such as workplace drug testing, DEA persecution of pharmacies and doctors, federal inspection of supposedly private mail, egregious racial disparities in the prosecution of drug crimes, and unprecedented grants of Big Brother–esque power to numerous federal agencies.
African-American to Caucasian marijuana arrest rate: 3.7:1
Possession-only arrests for marijuana
All marijuana-related arrests since 2003: 8 million
Cost per year per minimum-security inmate: $21,000
Total U.S. expenditures on the war on drugs: $1 trillion
Overall U.S. prison expenditures
1987: $19 billion
2007: $44 billion
A comprehensive online guide to local marijuana dispensaries and doctors, this site also includes reviews, video tours, and information about strain testing. (Sites such as leafly.com and nuggetry.com assess individual strains according to their medical benefits, side effects, and the type of high they create.)
The XX Factor
As with many social and political trends, the people who determine success or failure often are women. The Women’s Marijuana Movement is a national organization that has voiced its support for legalization on grounds that uniquely appeal to its membership: primarily, that advocating the use of pot instead of alcohol could drastically reduce instances of domestic violence and violence against women in general. Marijuana may not be a magical elixir to cure all these societal ills, but at least legalization means women working in the profession will now be protected by workplace discrimination and harassment laws. If pot advocates truly want to take their cause into the mainstream, they should view women not just as potential consumers, but as employees, employers, and investors as well.
Just so we’re clear: Anyone under 21 should not use marijuana, and anyone under 25 should use it only with the strictest caution (see “Facts,”). The vast majority of anti-pot arguments revolve around protecting children, and most of the regulations Colorado has established were designed for that exact purpose. The potential threats to kids go beyond them ingesting the drug; for example, a legal indoor growing setup might create unhealthy mold on the premises, which would be particularly hazardous for children with allergies or asthma. We can expect to hear reports of 21-and-over friends or siblings buying marijuana for their underage counterparts, but by prosecuting these cases with zero tolerance—as we’re theoretically doing with alcohol—such incidents should be minimized. Failure to implement and follow these rules to the fullest extent possible will dismantle the entire enterprise—and rightfully so.
As with MMJ dispensaries, Colorado communities that will allow retail marijuana operations are mandating that they sit at least 1,000 feet away from the nearest schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, and other marijuana facilities, and on-the-fence towns such as Louisville are debating limits to the size and hours of pot shops and have passed rules that would prevent clustering. One Denver city councilman’s proposal to make the buffer 2,500 feet would’ve forced the entire industry onto a few patches of land near DIA. As much as driving along the interminable Peña Boulevard makes us long for a little chemical escape, the proposal was mercifully declined.
Colorado cannabis industry celebrates another year of legal recreational pot
This past Monday marked a milestone for the marijuana industry as it celebrated another year of legal recreational sales in Colorado.
“Consumers clearly want our products,” Michael Lord, senior vice president of Business Development for LivWell Enlightened Health said. “We are also extremely proud that the tax revenues generated by our business benefit Colorado schools and that we’ve had a big role in minimizing the black market for marijuana.”
While medical marijuana in Colorado was legalized in 2000 under Amendment 20, recreational marijuana wasn’t deemed legal until 2012 when voters passed Amendment 64.
The amendment allows adults age 21 years and older the ability to legally purchase and possess up to an ounce of recreational marijuana or THC in a single transaction, according to PotGuide.com.
Under the law, residents aren’t the only ones that can purchase marijuana. Tourists and visitors to the Centennial State can buy up to an ounce of the drug in a single transaction, the website stated.
LivWell Enlightened Health in Garden City sells a variety of cannabis related products. (Alex McIntyre, Greeley Tribune)
Though pot shops across the state opened their doors for the first time January 1, 2014, to sell recreational marijuana to people in a controlled and legal environment, many in the industry consider April 20 to be its birthday. The date is referred to as 420, 4/20 or 4:20 in the cannabis community and has been considered an unofficial holiday for many years by some.
While past 420 events included mass gatherings in Denver and other surrounding cities, this year’s festivities were much more mellow due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing orders.
LivWell hosted an online 420 celebration and fundraiser that featured live music, comedy performances and special celebrity appearances, Lord said.
“The event’s online platform will enable participants to make donations throughout the broadcast and 100% of donations collected will benefit organizations, including The Payback, the Angel Relief Fund, the Colorado COVID Relief Fund and the Colorado Comedy Relief Fund,” Lord explained. “So everyone can stay home and enjoy 4/20.”
Over the past six years, the cannabis industry has grown rapidly across the state, offering consumers a variety of products such as eatables, cannabis seeds for home growing, lotions and salves, and other forms of the drug such as shatter and wax.
In 2019, to commemorate the five-year anniversary, indie film director Jane Wells created the feature documentary “Pot Luck,” which delves into a variety of questions including how has the legalization of marijuana played a part on the war on drugs, what is driving the movement to legalize cannabis and is legalization synonymous with greater social justice.
“Legalization has changed the state in visible ways. I was back visiting a few years ago for vacation and I was stunned and dumbfounded by the number of pot shops in town,” Wells explained. “As a progressive, cognizant of the failures of the war on drugs, I was curious to look more deeply and document the changes in my former home state.”
Wells spoke with a variety of people for the film including bud tenders, cannabis entrepreneurs, former addicts, law enforcement and government officials, addiction and recovery specialists, pot smokers, hemp farmers and marijuana growers.
“I really didn’t imagine that the legalization of cannabis was such a bi-partisan or non-partisan issue. So that was one thing that I learned,” Wells said. “I also learned about loop holes in the laws and how every year in the legislature they had to deal with unforeseen consequences that I couldn’t even imagine.
Marijuana has become big business in Colorado. (Greeley Tribune file photo)
“It (legalizing cannabis) seems like a very simple idea, but then it can suddenly spiral into something quite different,” she added.
Some of the consequences and legal barriers the cannabis industry still faces are higher tax rates, the inability to utilize banks as well as not being able to access relief funds due to COVID-19.
“At some point ‘success’ needs to include the ability to actually make a profit or people won’t stay in this business,” Lord explained. “We are spending a lot of time trying to equalize the tax treatment we receive at a federal level so we don’t pay a 70% federal income tax rate. It is very challenging to grow and adapt a business with a tax rate that high.”
According to attorney Kellie Pantekoek with FindLaw.com, while certain states have legalized and licensed marijuana dispensaries, the drug is still considered a Schedule 1 drug and is illegal.
With banks being regulated by federal law, the establishments can be charged with aiding and abetting a federal crime or money laundering if they accept money from cannabis dispensaries.
Without banks, many marijuana businesses operate on an all-cash basis, which can bring with it a whole different set of challenges such as not being able to accept credit cards, apply for business loans and not being able to pay state taxes or bills by check or electronically.
“Additionally, paying employees is dangerous and cumbersome without bank access” Pantekoek writes in her column. “Not only does compensating employees in cash make them vulnerable to crime, it is also a much more tedious process to prepare cash payments than paychecks.
“In a twist of irony, many of today’s forward-thinking cannabis entrepreneurs are stuck in the past without access to modern financial services,” she wrote.
With the cannabis craze not slowing down anytime soon, states and the government will need to address financial barriers sooner rather than later.
“If legalization remains on trend, nearly every state will have some form of legalized marijuana in the next five years,” Lord said. “The industry will continue to slowly grow and to capture market share from the black market.”