Compromise legislation to allow cannabis consumption education and tasting as an “incremental approach” to marijuana hospitality is poised to reach the Colorado governor.
House Bill 1258 received a bipartisan 22-12 vote in the Senate on April 27. Ten Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, joined 12 Democrats in backing the measure to allow for so-called cannabis “tasting rooms.”
The bill must receive a final vote in the House to address a handful of minor Senate amendments. A vote could come as early as this week, which would send the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his approval.
House Bill 1258 is the result of a four-year stakeholder process that included input from state health officials with CDPHE, resulting in a proposal that complies with the Clean Indoor Air Act by prohibiting smoking.
The compromise bill also allowed for the Marijuana Enforcement Division to take a “neutral” stance. The Division opposed previous public cannabis consumption efforts, including those that would have allowed for cannabis clubs. But it called tasting rooms an “incremental approach.”
Unlike previous efforts, House Bill 1258 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, thereby controlling a proliferation. The bill is total local control, meaning towns and cities would have the choice of opting into a tasting room model.
Tasting rooms could be used as education centers where consumers receive product and consumption safety information from trained professionals. Responsible vendor training is mandatory in the bill.
Cannabis industry supporters of the legislation are speaking with CDOT and MADD in the hopes of developing an “Explore Responsibly” campaign to address cannabis and driving and to use tasting rooms as a point of contact. Terrapin Care Station, a Boulder-based national cannabis company that supports the bill, has already begun placing “Explore Responsibly” logos in its advertising. Many industry supporters also participate in CDOT’s “Cannabis Conversation,” a campaign to collect data on cannabis and driving. Colorado State Patrol participates in the campaign, as well.
House Bill 1258 would promote cannabis-free public spaces, which reduces burdens on state and local law enforcement. Regulators see the public safety value in creating a consistent statewide policy with regulatory oversight to reign in unlicensed, unregulated clubs.
The compromise bill allows for onsite sales and consumption in the form of products that can be vaporized or consumed in a single serving. Market trends indicate that consumers are gravitating towards vaping cannabis, so tasting rooms would fit that need. And with more people choosing to “microdose,” or consume lower potency products, tasting rooms would allow consumers to try these lower-dose products before purchasing larger amounts.
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.
“This is a bill that has been in the works and part of conversations for a while now…” Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a sponsor of the compromise bill, said during proceedings on the Senate floor. “This is an approach that has a lot of stakeholder buy-in and engagement. It’s a conservative approach… it’s a conservative step forward.”
There are also ancillary opportunities to consider in the legislation, which is why House Bill 1258 is receiving support from outside the cannabis industry. Because it would be prohibited to prepare food on premises in a tasting room, food trucks could provide a valuable service. And companies developing vaporization products would be able to sell those products in the same room where consumers are testing those products.
House Bill 1258 made it through the House by a vote of 39-24 on April 11, with five Republicans joining in backing the legislation, including House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock.
Other bill sponsors include Sens. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Reps. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Leslie Herod, D-Denver.
“This bill coincides with the goals of Colorado voters who approved Amendment 64,” Tim Neville added of House Bill 1258. “We are providing a safe, well-regulated environment for Colorado’s cannabis consumers.”