• January 21, 2021

Marijuana opponents are wrong — tasting rooms would limit youth exposure

 Marijuana opponents are wrong — tasting rooms would limit youth exposure

Okay, we’ll admit that a misleading tirade from anti-marijuana group Smart Colorado isn’t quite fake news. Nothing that comes out of the “reefer madness” spin machine that is Smart Colorado really qualifies as news, so we’ll hedge.

There are, however, a lot of fake narratives from Smart in the recent fundraising email disguised as a call to action. Titled an “urgent request,” Smart Colorado asks Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto legislation that would reduce youth exposure to marijuana. We know. It’s weird coming from a group “focused on protecting the health, safety and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available.”

Smart’s email claims that House Bill 1258 — a cannabis regulatory measure that passed the legislature with diverse bipartisan support and that was described by the Marijuana Enforcement Division as an “incremental approach” — would “endanger the state’s kids.” Fake!

Protecting Kids by Creating a Safe Space for Adult Consumption

What House Bill 1258 actually does is create a map of where NOT to take children if you are worried about youth exposure to marijuana. The legislation allows existing licensed cannabis businesses to create an accessory consumption establishment where adults age 21 and over would be allowed to taste very limited servings of marijuana. There is NO SMOKING allowed in the bill, which means consumers would be limited to vaping cannabis flower and an equivalent, significantly smaller amount of concentrate. Single-serving edibles also would qualify.

Parents taking their kids out to a public park on a gorgeous Colorado spring day currently do not have a map of where adults might be consuming cannabis, and in many cases, those individuals are smoking it. That’s because adults have nowhere to publicly consume cannabis. This gaping regulatory hole — acknowledged by the Denver Post — has resulted in people consuming in parks and on streets. Children have been exposed.

In its wisdom this year, the Colorado Legislature sought to close this regulatory gap by creating a state model to keep cannabis consumption away from children and adults who do not want to come in contact with cannabis use. That answer came in the form of House Bill 1258.

Creating a Safe Space for Consumption Does Not “Increase Marijuana Commercialization”

This local control bill curbs a proliferation of public cannabis consumption by only allowing existing licensed cannabis businesses to apply for a tasting room. Rather than a proliferation of consumption clubs — that are already popping up in neighborhoods without any regulatory oversight — the bill would limit tasting rooms to existing cannabis businesses. That means no commercialized expansion of the industry, and an alternative for local governments to “bring your own” clubs.

The bill operates within the current cannabis market and regulatory structure. It gives towns and cities full control by requiring municipal approval. We don’t anticipate many local governments will quickly jump at the opportunity. In fact, state fiscal analysts determined that a whopping 1 percent of existing retail marijuana stores would apply for a marijuana accessory consumption establishment endorsement. That is quite the opposite of proliferation and expanded commercialization.

Creating a Safe Space for Consumption Does Not “Increase Stoned Driving”

While Smart claims without evidence that House Bill 1258 would “increase drugged driving,” HB 1258 provides a major transportation safety benefit that Smart is overlooking.

The bill emphasizes that tasting rooms should serve as education centers, where patrons can receive critical product and consumption safety information.

Several supporters of the bill from the cannabis industry are taking part in a “Cannabis Conversation with the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol. Data and educational materials stemming from the campaign would be made available to patrons visiting cannabis tasting rooms. Thanks to House Bill 1258, consumers would receive safety information as they experience consumption. The public safety benefits of that should not be minimized by Smart or any other group raising money off of an anti-marijuana message.

Creating a Safe Space for Consumption Does Not Violate Colorado’s Constitution

There is also a constitutional question raised by Smart Colorado, which we’ll admit, is a bit complicated and difficult to understand. The fundraising email from Smart barely scratches the surface. But we know TNS has a scholarly audience, so we’ll lay it out.

Contrary to what Smart has claimed in the past, nothing in the Colorado Constitution prohibits the regulation of public marijuana consumption. While one section of Amendment 64 contains a clarifying clause that “nothing in this section shall permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others,” this simply does not equate to a prohibition on the state legislature or a local government subsequently regulating public consumption.

Amendment 64’s authors have repeatedly made this point, pointing out, “Nothing in the amendment references or prohibits the regulation of on-site consumption nor was it the intention of the authors to imply any prohibition on that activity. To the contrary, we have been advocating over the past several years for changes to state and local laws to allow such activity.”

Frankly, it’s embarrassing to try to claim otherwise, which is perhaps why this time Smart’s email doesn’t say “prohibition” and instead makes a half-hearted appeal to certain implied “protections” they believe – without evidence – would be impaired by House Bill 1258.

Rather, Colorado’s Constitution outlines “personal consumption” and “property rights” in the context of cannabis. The Constitution also addresses the regulation of consumption on private property by defining “control of property,” which is the basis for successful citizen initiatives and local ordinances regarding “bring your own” private marijuana clubs.

We encourage everyone to see past this last-ditch effort by Smart Colorado to undermine House Bill 1258. We’re confident that the governor will accept the measure for what it is — common-sense regulation.

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus served as the Senior Statehouse Reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette where he co-launched ColoradoPolitics.com, covering politics, the governor’s office, the Colorado Legislature, Congress, and federal, state and local governments. He joined in November 2016 from The Durango Herald. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the top state-based political and legislative reporters in the nation. He also has won over a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association. In prior positions, Marcus worked for the Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly, and The Denver Daily News, a former free daily newspaper in Denver, where he covered City Hall, politics, and had an entertainment column. Before that, Marcus worked for the Longmont Times-Call. An Ithaca College graduate, Marcus studied journalism and creative writing, before moving to Colorado from New York in 2004.

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