Legislation that offers a conservative “incremental approach” to cannabis hospitality has received bipartisan support through each step of the legislative process.
House Bill 1258 — which would allow for cannabis tasting rooms — was last advanced on April 17 by a committee in the Republican-controlled Colorado Senate by a vote of 4-1. Sens. Jim Smallwood of Parker, Jack Tate of Centennial and Tim Neville of Littleton, all Republicans, joined Sen. Cheri Jahn, unaffiliated, in moving the bill through the Finance Committee.
The measure now heads to Senate Appropriations to address a small but positive fiscal note. It has already passed through the House on a bipartisan vote of 39-24. Five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill in the House, including House Republican Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock.
The lone “no” vote in the Senate Finance Committee came from Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, whose Senate District 31 backed public consumption in Denver by over 50 percent when answering Initiative 300 in 2016. She acknowledged that she was likely going to have a “conflict” with her constituency on the issue
Lawmakers highlighted a moderate approach in House Bill 1258, which unlike cannabis clubs would only allow for existing licensed and regulated cannabis businesses to apply for a tasting room. Retail marijuana license holders would only be allowed to operate one tasting room per licensed location under the measure. The bill prohibits indoor smoking, but it allows for onsite sales and consumption in the form of products that can be vaporized or consumed in a single serving.
The measure would set a consumer purchase limit likely to be 1 gram of flower, with an equivalency for marijuana concentrates. Consumers would have to be at least 21 years old, and retail employees would be trained to spot for intoxication.
The Marijuana Enforcement Division calls the legislation an “incremental approach,” and the division is “neutral” on the bill, despite opposing previous public consumption efforts.
Cannabis industry supporters of the bill are speaking with CDOT and MADD to perhaps develop an “Explore Responsibly” campaign to address cannabis and driving and to use tasting rooms as a point of contact. Many industry supporters already participate in CDOT’s “Cannabis Conversation,” which includes Colorado State Patrol.
House Bill 1258 is the result of a four-year process to create cannabis consumption education centers where consumers can receive product and consumption safety information from trained professionals.
“The consequences of not resolving this has been a flagrant use of marijuana in public spaces like local parks, sidewalks, hotel rooms, ski lifts, streets, and other spaces,” said Tim Neville, a sponsor of the legislation.
“It’s a conservative approach; it’s an approach that is opt in,” added Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, highlighting that local governments have the option of rejecting tasting rooms and that municipalities worked with stakeholders in drafting the bill.
In addition to Neville and Fenberg, other bill sponsors include Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver.
The measure promotes cannabis-free public spaces, which reduces burdens on state and local law enforcement while offering a safe alternative for parents who want to sample products outside of the home. Regulators see the public safety value in creating a consistent statewide policy with regulatory oversight to reign in unlicensed, unregulated clubs.
House Bill 1258 has the support of the majority of the cannabis industry, including Terrapin Care Station, Native Roots, The Green Solution, Medicine Man, Dixie Elixirs, the Marijuana Industry Group, LivWell, and Good Chemistry. The free market approach also garnered the support of Americans for Prosperity.
There are at least 315 MED-issued business licenses held by supporters of the bill; at least 117 of those come from Marijuana Industry Group members. There is a total of 529 retail marijuana storefront licenses in Colorado, according to MED’s latest numbers.
The ancillary opportunity for businesses is immense, which is why House Bill 1258 is receiving support from outside the cannabis industry. Companies developing vaporization products would be able to sell those products in the same room where consumers are testing those products. And because it would be prohibited to prepare food on premises in a tasting room, food trucks could provide a valuable service.
“This bill has identified the path forward in achieving cannabis-free public spaces,” said Chris Woods, founder, owner and chief executive of Terrapin Care Station, a Boulder-based national cannabis company. “It allows individuals to receive important education on the products they have legalized in our state.”