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Ten Events That Shaped the Colorado Cannabis Industry

By Vicente Sederberg LLP

Dec 22, 2020

Colorado has played a historic role in the cannabis policy reform movement, and it continues to play a leading role in the global marijuana and hemp markets. Here are ten events from the past 10 years that shaped the development and regulation of the Colorado cannabis industry. 

  1. June 7, 2010: Gov. Bill Ritter signed HB 10-1284 into law, establishing the nation's first state-regulated medical cannabis market. The Legislature took up the issue after Sensible Colorado — led by VS founding partners Brian Vicente and Josh Kappel — spearheaded successful impact litigation on behalf of a Denver patient, which opened the door for dispensaries to begin operating in Colorado. VS leaders worked with lawmakers and stakeholders throughout the legislative process that resulted in HB 10-1284, as well as on cleanup legislation (HB 11-1043) in the following session.

  2. November 6, 2012: Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 (55-45), a constitutional amendment to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older. Members of the VS team played a leading role in drafting and campaigning for the historic initiative, which officially took effect on December 10, 2012. The measure also legalized and called for the regulation of industrial hemp, making Colorado the first state in the nation to establish a state-regulated hemp program.

  3. May 28, 2013: Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a series of bills into law to implement Amendment 64, including SB 13-283 and HB 13-1317 to establish the regulatory system for adult-use cannabis; HB 13-1318 (to enact taxes on adult-use cannabis, which would require voter approval), and SB 13-241 (to regulate industrial hemp). VS founding partner Christian Sederberg represented the Amendment 64 campaign on the governor's implementation task force, and VS played a key role in implementation at both the state and local levels.

  4. November 5, 2013: Colorado voters approved Proposition AA (65-35), authorizing the state's first cannabis-specific taxes. Specifically, it created an excise tax of 15% on wholesale transfers of adult-use cannabis, as well as an additional 10% tax on retail sales of adult-use cannabis. VS founding partner Brian Vicente led the campaign in support of the measure, which was considered a critical step toward implementing Amendment 64, as the revenue from the taxes was needed to fund enforcement of the regulatory system and make good on the A64 campaign's promise of new tax revenue for the state. Since implementation of the taxes in January 2014, the state has generated more than $1 billion in cannabis-related revenue.

  5. January 1, 2014: Adult cannabis sales began, making Colorado the first jurisdiction in the world to allow for the regulated sale of cannabis for recreational use. Only a relatively small number of businesses were open at first, but more would quickly follow as local governments around the state established rules and began issuing licenses.

  6. November 8, 2016: Denver voters approved Initiated Ordinance 300 (54-46), authorizing adults to use cannabis socially in designated venues that have received local approval. VS played a leading role in drafting and campaigning for the initiative. Although city officials rendered the measure virtually unworkable by creating unfair setbacks and restrictions, the measure opened the public dialogue on social use and set the stage for future legislation at the state and local levels.

  7. May 29, 2019: Gov. Jared Polis signed a slate of cannabis-related bills into law, marking the next phase in the evolution of Colorado's cannabis regulatory system. HB 19-1230 authorized cannabis hospitality establishments, while HB 19-1234 allowed for the delivery of cannabis products. Both laws require local approval, and local governments have since begun to move forward with authorizing and creating rules governing such activities. HB 19-1090 increased investment opportunities in the Colorado cannabis industry by lifting a provision that had prohibited publicly traded companies from having an ownership stake in a cannabis business license. VS played a supporting role in the lobbying efforts behind all three bills.

  8. March 25, 2020: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment designates regulated cannabis dispensaries "critical retail" businesses in a public health order implementing stay at home requirements. This designation allowed cannabis retailers to remain open as the state began shutting down other sectors to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Throughout March and April, state and local agencies released emergency rules allowing for curbside pickup, online sales, and other standard business practices that had previously been prohibited. VS has been closely tracking and reporting these regulatory updates on its website.

  9. June 18, 2020: The Colorado Department of Agriculture, the governor's office, and the state attorney general's office jointly filed the state's hemp management plan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan was developed in 2019 after the Legislature passed HB 19-1214, which mandated that the state agriculture commissioner consult with members of the hemp industry to draw up the plan (VS participated in the process). The state is now working on revisions to the plan, which it will submit following the USDA's release of the Final Rule related to establishing the nation’s Domestic Hemp Production Program.

  10. June 29, 2020: Gov. Polis signed HB 20-1424 into law to facilitate the implementation of programs aimed at promoting social equity in the Colorado cannabis industry. The law also expanded the governor's power to pardon individuals for past cannabis possession offenses. A few months later, on October 1, Gov. Polis used that power to issue a mass pardon for more than 2,700 past convictions.

Looking Ahead

Local governments around the state will continue to implement some of the newer aspects of the cannabis industry, such as delivery services and hospitality establishments. The Legislature is expected to take up a wide variety of issues in 2021, including potency caps, medical-retail harmonization, temporary workers, hemp pollen, record sealing, possession limits, and extending the governor's executive orders. VS and its policy consulting affiliate, VS Strategies, will remain engaged in these legislative matters, and we will continue to participate in working groups and other aspects of the regulatory process.


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