Colorado Gov. Jared Polis Signs Bill Expanding Cannabis Equity and Pardons

Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill on Monday night at Simply Pure, a cannabis dispensary, that will broaden social equity and justice efforts across the state. In addition to expanding access to social equity licenses for those hoping to join the state’s cannabis industry, the bill also gives Polis more leverage to pardon cannabis offenses. In the run up to the bill’s passage, the state’s largest cannabis operators lobbied in favor of the bill. 

“All hardworking Coloradans deserve a fair shot at sharing in the prosperity of the booming marijuana industry,” bill sponsor Rep. James Coleman said in a statement. “This bill will help overcome decades of inequity in an industry where black people have been criminalized and others have been able to make profits. We should not be defined by our past alone, and this bill provides Coloradans who want to make an honest living in the marijuana industry with the opportunity to do so. Creating equal economic opportunity for all makes us stronger. ”  

This bill, HB 1424, builds upon one passed by state lawmakers last year, SB 224, which created so-called “accelerator” licenses to allow a person to “operate respectively on the premises of a licensed retail marijuana cultivation facility or retail marijuana products manufacturer” and to “receive technical, compliance, and capital assistance from the host-licensed retail marijuana business.” HB 1424 changes “accelerator licensee” to “social equity licensee,” expands the program to include retail, and requires that a social equity licensee maintain at least 51 percent of the beneficial ownership, among other changes.

The bill also expands criteria for qualification to include individuals with an immediate family member, including a “parent, legal guardian, sibling, spouse, child, or a minor in their guardianship,” for example, who has been arrested for or convicted of a cannabis offense, or “subject to civil asset forfeiture related to a marijuana investigation.”

“Civil asset forfeiture is a terrible piece of the war on drugs and a lot of people suffered as a result of that, aside from just convictions and arrests,” Ean Seeb, who owned one of Denver’s first cannabis shops, Denver Relief, and, later, Denver Relief Consulting, and who is now Governor Jared Polis’ adviser on cannabis, said of the bill during a recent meeting in Denver. “There’s plenty of anecdotal and real information to support that in many cases, social equity licensees have effectively been taken advantage of by people looking to support them with capital contributions or whatnot that effectively take away their ownership.” 

The bill also allows Polis to pardon people with cannabis convictions, as long as possession was up to two ounces. Colorado lawmakers passed HB 1424 on the final day of the year’s legislative session, June 15.

Some of the cannabis companies with the largest footprints in Colorado, like Schwazze, LivWell, and The Green Solution, lobbied in support of the bill. Also lobbying in support: the Medical Marijuana Industry Group and the Simply Pure dispensary, where Polis signed the bill, owned by Wanda James and Scott Durrah, who note on their website that they are “the first African Americans, legally licensed in America, to own a dispensary, a cultivation facility and an edible company.”

Colorado’s cannabis industry has a diversity problem that state and local lawmakers and regulators have been focused on solving. A recent study found that 75 percent of cannabis business owners in Denver, the epicenter of the state’s cannabis industry, are white. For this reason, Denver’s Marijuana Licensing Work Group has been laser-focused on equity, and recently held four meetings with the goal of making recommendations to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the City Council for approval. That group held its final meeting last week, just days before the statewide equity bill became law.  

Rep. Jonathan Singer said in a statement that HB 1424 was “good for small businesses, hardworking Coloradans, and our state’s economy as a whole.” 

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