Future Colorado pot shops, growers win flexibility

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Where should recreational pot sold in Colorado come from? Lawmakers debating the hotly argued marijuana question came down on the side of flexibility Monday, voting to reject the state’s current medical marijuana model, which requires dispensaries to grow most of the pot they sell.

A special House-Senate committee set up to regulate pot made the decision on their final day. The committee voted to seek a bill allowing future pot businesses to specialize in just one aspect of the business if they wish, growing or distributing or retailing.

At issue is whether future recreational marijuana shops should be like liquor stores, which don’t have to make the products they sell. Some wanted marijuana shops to act like current medical marijuana dispensaries, which are required to grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell.

The question sharply divided Colorado’s existing pot industry. A coalition of large-scale pot businesses argued to keep Colorado’s grow-your-own requirement. They argued it would give Colorado greater control over the state’s crop of the federally illegal drug.

“It makes sure that if you’re growing it, you have a legal way of selling it,” said Mike Elliott, head of the Denver-based Medical Marijuana Industry Group.

Other marijuana sellers argued that the growing requirement isn’t needed now that people without medical problems are free to buy pot. They argued that large marijuana businesses wanted to keep the requirement to dramatically limit competition.

Marijuana activist Jessica LaRoux told lawmakers in an email that the grow-your-own requirement would mean that “only the most well-funded current medical entities from the big city will be able to expand into new locations.”

The legislative committee also ratcheted back a requirement that current medical marijuana businesses get first crack at the new recreation market. A task force that examined the question earlier this year proposed a one-year protection for medical shops. The legislative committee suggested a much smaller 90-day window.

The marijuana committee earlier agreed to a long list of recommendations for how pot should be grown, sold and taxed. Lawmakers are poised to ask Coloradans to tax marijuana at least 30 percent, with proceeds bound for school construction and regulating the new marijuana business. Lawmakers want to require potency labels, purchasing limits and safety standards for how the drug should be produced.

The full Legislature has yet to weigh in on the marijuana regulation. A related measure to set a new blood-level marijuana limit for drivers has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.