Colorado might have one of the longest standing adult-use marijuana markets in the U.S., but its program is still evolving—most recently with the House passage of a bill to increase the lawful possession limit and the governor signing legislation to create a social equity fund for the cannabis industry.
On Sunday, Gov. Jared Polis (D) visited a marijuana dispensary in Denver to sign a measure that would establish a program within the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade that’s intended to support cannabis businesses owned by people who qualify as social equity licensees, primarily people most impacted by the drug war.
It will provide those individuals with loans for “seed capital and ongoing business expenses,” as well as grants “to support innovation and job creation,” according to a bill summary. It also makes technical assistance available to marijuana business owners.
The program will receive an initial infusion of $4 million from the state’s marijuana tax fund—about $1 million short of what the governor had requested in January. The legislation was created in consultation with Black Brown and Red Badged (BBRB), a coalition of minority-owned cannabis businesses.
“Our war on marijuana falls disproportionately on people of color, effectively reducing access to an industry that’s fully legal and regulated in our state,” Polis said in a press conference before signing the bill.
The governor said the measure is “especially important, because right now the federal Small Business Administration prevents federal resources from going to support and help companies that operate in the legal marijuana industry,” adding that the state is stepping up to “fill that role.”
Last year, Polis signed a separate bill that creates a statewide definition of cannabis social equity licensees. Those businesses are now the ones that will primarily benefit from the new legislation.
“Equity in cannabis is all about new opportunities and having the ability to capitalize on those opportunities,” BBRB Executive Director Hashim Coates said in a press release. “We know that access to capital is the most critical component to success for these entrepreneurs, so we conceived of a loan program similar to the [federal Small Business Administration].”
“Unfortunately, our efforts were delayed due to the legislature going on a COVID hiatus last year,” he said. “But, we are so proud to see our vision brought to life—especially in the wake of an economic crisis where Black and Brown start-ups will get this economy back on track.”
This kind of funding is largely made possible from tax revenue derived by the state’s robust cannabis market. Data from the state’s Department of Revenue shows that more than $10 billion of marijuana has been sold since the adult-use program launched in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Colorado House approved a bill last week that would increase the amount of marijuana an adult 21 or older can possess from one to two ounces. It also requires courts to approve requests to have prior records for cannabis possession sealed without consulting with a district attorney as long as the proper documentation is provided.
Earlier this week my bill that would eliminate offenses for marijuana possession (of 2 oz or less for those 21+) & allow for record sealing for these offenses passed through the House and will soon be heard Senate! #coleg #copolitics pic.twitter.com/q0JxBG19Bj
— Rep. Alex Valdez (@ValdezforCO) March 19, 2021
That policy change could have a significant impact on future gubernatorial pardons. Polis signed an executive order in October that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana. And while the legislation that enabled him to do that in an expedited way applied to possession cases involving up to two ounces, his office declined to pardon those with more than one ounce on their records because that amount violated the existing state law.
Another piece of cannabis reform legislation that cleared the Senate last week would require schools and school district to institute policies permitting employees to store and administer marijuana products for students who are registered medical cannabis patients.