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These new marijuana laws still need local approval

Marijuana delivery is now legal in Colorado, but you can't order pot like a pizza just quite yet

DENVER — On the list of marijuana laws passed in 2019 that took effect in 2020, two got a lot of coverage for how they could expand the industry.

But Coloradans won’t actually see state-approved marijuana delivery and marijuana hospitality establishments until local governments decide whether to approve implementation.

“Unfortunately it’s not happening today and it’s probably not going to happen tomorrow,” said Jordan Wellington, of VS Strategies. Wellington works with the state and local governments in cannabis regulatory policy.

“It’s going to take at least several months, maybe as long as year to get local governments to adopt regulatory programs, establish ordinances, and then begin the process of either issuing permits or approvals for delivery and licenses for hospitality establishments,” Wellington said. 

Under the new delivery law, licensed marijuana sellers could begin delivering medical marijuana this year while recreational pot delivery would be legal starting in 2021. Shannon Gray, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, said the state currently has zero delivery permit applications pending.

Under the new hospitality establishment law, businesses could apply licenses to sell and/or allow customers to consume marijuana on site. Gray said the state has three hospitality license applications pending.

One of those applications came from The Coffee Joint, said owner Rita Tsalyk. Her business was the first and currently only social pot consumption business in Denver.

“The city of Denver passed Initiative 300 [in 2016] and allowed spaces like us to become social consumption area and have a license like that,” Tsalyk explained. The new hospitality law allows consumption businesses like hers, already operating under a current local ordinance, to continue operating as long as they applied for a state license by Dec. 31.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the business here,” Tsalyk said about the new law, “But I’m excited because I think it gives a new perspective to the industry.”

“There is a tremendous amount of interest, not just from the business community, but interest form cannabis patients,” Wellington said. “Especially those with ambulatory issues as well as cannabis consumers, just like there is interest in having any other legal commodity delivered.”

He and others in the industry are now working to get local governments to take the next step.

“Delivery is a relatively straightforward implementation process. The state adopted incredibly comprehensive regulations that deal with everything from who can get a license and deliver to security requirements, markings on vehicles, anything you can think of;" Wellington said. "And the existing licensees are the ones that are allowed to do delivery – the existing stores and centers.

“Whereas hospitality is a much more complicated issue, that involves not only new businesses opening up but regulations that, by their nature, are a little more locally-focused – about business sighting and location and zoning matters, as well as things that might impact the community,” Wellington said.

The city of Denver has not yet decided whether to opt in to the new marijuana hospitality or delivery laws, but could later this year.

Eric Escudero, communications manager for the Department of Excise and Licensing, said the city is currently reviewing social equity in the local cannabis industry.

“Our focus when it comes to marijuana in Denver is finishing up a comprehensive report that will be issued later this month or in February that will examine the makeup of the marijuana industry in Denver and if people who were disproportionately negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition are befitting from legalization with opportunities for ownership, management or employment in Denver's marijuana industry,” he explained in an email this week.

“If that report shows that this group of people is not benefiting from legalization with opportunities in the industry, we will be developing a social equity plan so any new licenses potentially issued for hospitality or delivery will have an equity aspect,” Escudero said.

Tsalyk, of The Coffee Joint, is also thinking about social equity. She said her store is hosting a forum about the issue on Jan. 23, where they hope members of the marijuana industry will come and share thoughts and ideas.

“We will meet, we will just chat around and try to brainstorm what’s needed, who are those groups we’re trying to think so hard for, and see what they actually need, how they need to be supported,” she said.

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