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Colorado's Marijuana Laws Are About to Change...Big Time

Coloradans voted for major change in November 2012, when they approved Amendment 64 and legalized recreational cannabis. Now Colorado lawmakers have approved changes that will prove almost as momentous.

Measures opening the state to social pot use and commercial cannabis delivery, as well as approving new medical conditions for MMJ, all passed the Colorado General Assembly this session. But even more changes could come through less sexy bills that address sunsetting laws in the state's medical marijuana program and pot industry.  These bills would create new business licenses, along with new opportunities for medical marijuana access; regulations would be eased for cannabis business owners and employees alike.

Now that the smoke of the 2019 legislative session has cleared, we've highlighted some of the most anticipated changes to Colorado cannabis:

Legal social consumption could finally arrive Finding places to legally consume cannabis outside of a private home is difficult in Colorado, where public pot use is banned by the state constitution. But thanks to the passage of House Bill 1230, businesses like dispensaries, restaurants, hotels, music venues and more could soon apply for social pot use permits. There are still some catches, though: Governor Jared Polis hasn't signed the bill yet (although proponents expect him to), and if/when he does, local governments must still opt in to the program. And one state rule won't change: No establishment allowing pot use will be able to sell alcohol, too.

Delivery will likely be legal soon With the approval of House Bill 1234, we could get cannabis delivered to our doorsteps within the next two years. We won't see the first stages of this until 2020, when only medical marijuana delivery will be allowed. Recreational delivery could start as early as 2021. Polis still needs to sign this bill, and if/when he does, municipalities will have to opt in to this program, too.

Medical marijuana could soon be recommend as an opioid alternative In a move that could open up the state's medical marijuana program to thousands, the legislature passed Senate Bill 13, also known as the MMJ for opiods bill. If signed by Polis (advocates believe he will), the measure would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana in lieu of opioid medications — which could help curb Colorado's opioid epidemic. The MMJ prescription length would be determined by the recommending doctor instead of the standard one-year that patients with other conditions currently receive.

Autism is now a medical marijuana condition A similar bill passed through the legislature with relative ease in 2018, but then-Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed the measure. However, proponents and parents of autistic children were able to get more expansive language approved in 2019, and House Bill 1028 has already been signed by Polis, making it law and adding autism to the state's list of medical marijuana conditions.

The industry will be open to outside investors and publicly traded companies After another Hickenlooper veto in 2018, House Bill 1090 proposed opening the state's cannabis industry to out-of-state investors and capital, including publicly held companies and large venture funds. The bill would also permit investors to own smaller stakes (less than 10 percent) in a cannabis business. Polis is expected to sign the bill after criticizing Hickenlooper's veto last year.

Colorado's marijuana laws were set to expire in 2019, so lawmakers extended and updated them for the next eight years. Jacquleine Collins

More doctors, dentists (and some nurses) would be able recommend medical marijuana An amendment added to the sunsetting medical marijuana bill would allow MMJ recommendations by people with a "valid license to practice within his or her scope of practice." Currently, only licensed physicians can recommend medical marijuana, but this move would allow dentists, advanced nurse practitioners and other specialized doctors and advanced healthcare professionals to recommend medical marijuana if it falls within their scopes of practice.

Micro business licenses could diversify the industry This measure would create "accelerator licenses," which would be reserved for people who have lived in low-income areas of Colorado for five of the past ten years. Known as micro licenses around the industry, they'd enable these potrepreneurs to use the facilities of established companies as they research and create their own cannabis products, which they would completely own. The state Marijuana Enforcement Division still has a lot of work to do on on the details, but minority entrepreneur advocates are excited about this one, which could open up the industry.

Cannabis inhalers are set up for easier regulation A popular device for medical patients and recreational users looking for fast effects, CBD and THC inhalers were under regulatory scrutiny in 2018 after the MED deemed them a "non-conforming product": a cannabis product that could not be smoked, vaporized or consumed orally. The status meant that companies producing inhalers were subject to FDA-like regulations, which require long, costly stages of research and development, as well as product testing. Under the rewritten recreational marijuana bill, inhalers will now be regulated and tested in the same manner as vaporizers.

Sales incentives for employees Believe it or not, most cannabis employees in Colorado can't legally receive sales-based incentive bonuses at work, out of fear that it would peddling federally illegal substances. (There are ways around it, but companies have to get clever.) The recreational sunset bill would allow companies to do this in the clear, and give the industry more protection from unnecessary state enforcement.

Lab testing of cannabis products will probably change A sore subject for most cannabis producers, lab testing results for potency and containments can fluctuate from lab to lab. Although the amendment is brief and leaves a lot of rule-making to the MED, language in the recreational sunset bill would require the MED to "prevent obsolete testing" of medical and recreational products. What will that look like? We'll see.

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