Coalition Pushes for a More Equitable Marijuana Industry in Colorado

Coalition Pushes for a More Equitable Marijuana Industry in Colorado

(Denver, CO) – A coalition spearheaded by the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has made several recommendations to the state’s Department of Regulatory Affairs (DORA) to improve marijuana’s current regulatory framework.

“Since Colorado became the first state to legally regulate marijuana, the national conversation has shifted from whether we’ll legalize to how we should do it,” said Art Way, Colorado State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Colorado can do much more to address the lasting impacts of decades of mass criminalization. Given the current lack of diversity in Colorado’s legal marijuana market, we urgently need to follow the lead of other states and cities that are implementing policies to reduce barriers to entry in the industry,” added Way.

DORA recently released their statutorily-mandated “sunset report” to various stakeholders and will present it to the legislature in December. The coalition was pleased their recommendations impacted DORA’s report in regards to license suitability. DORA’s report recommended the state no longer treat people convicted of drug felonies more punitively than other people convicted of non-drug related felonies, and also suggested data collection where someone’s criminal record was dispositive to the denial of their license application.

One area DORA did not act upon involved the coalition’s suggestion to create varying licenses – micro licenses – allowing people to engage in the industry at accessible entry and operating capital levels. California has spearheaded micro licenses under their state and local regulations. Massachusetts has also approached access to the industry aggressively by establishing educational and finance programs. Many advocates who originally supported and helped bankroll Colorado’s legalization initiative are now concerned their impacted communities are not fairly benefitting from legalization’s economic boon.  

The coalition not only argues that changes need to be made concerning who can work in the industry, but also how the industry itself is regulated. Due to burdensome compliance regulations on the industry, the cost for many to get started as a cultivator or owner approaches a million dollars. For example, the back-up batteries required under state regulations for video surveillance cost $20,000 alone.  

The coalition includes Black Lives Matter 5280, Cannability Foundation, Cannabis Consumers Coalition, Cannabis Global Initiative, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Colorado Latino Forum, Denver NORML, Denver Relief Consulting, kindColorado, Minority Cannabis Business Association, NAACP of CO, MT and WY, Sensible Colorado, Servicios de la Raza and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
 
“DORA is responsible for assessing whether regulations are consistent with the public interest, spur or restrict competition, unduly restrict participants or create affirmative action,” says Kayvan Khalatbari, of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “The endorsement letter our coalition puts forward addresses these issues through recommendations concerning broad access to and equity within this still young industry.”

“Legalization has minimized the ineffective criminalization of people of color in our state,” says Kelly Perez, founder of kindColorado. “It also has the ability to benefit the same community from a broader structural inequity perspective.”

Michael Diaz Rivera of Black Lives Matter adds, “Legalization in many ways was born from criminal justice reform and those most impacted by prohibition should not be so easily shut out of this industry.”
 
The coalition letter and recommendations to DORA is available upon request. Members of the coalition look forward to pressing the issue during the next legislative session. The group has solid relationships with many in the industry, including the Marijuana Industry Group who signaled support for certain recommendations put forth by the coalition.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.