Cannabis in Colorado: The state of legalization
According to Modern Canna Science, a Florida-based lab that tests cannabis, “Colorado is a trailblazer among states when it comes to legalized marijuana.” In 2013, Colorado legalized cannabis for any use, but lots of rules apply. The state’s government regulates the entire cannabis industry — from growing and distributing it to testing and use and more — and that applies to products for medicinal and recreational purposes.
To get an expert’s view on Colorado’s cannabis regulation, I spoke with Lauren Davis, a Denver-based attorney. The governor appointed Davis to the Law Enforcement Subcommittee of the Amendment 64 Task Force, which examined the regulation of cannabis in Colorado. She has also tried some of the cutting-edge marijuana cases in Colorado, and she is on the Executive Board of Colorado NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). In short, Lauren Davis is really up on the topic of cannabis regulation in Colorado.
When I ask her how she rates Colorado for state-level cannabis regulation, she says, “In terms of intent and the philosophy underpinning our system, we should be getting an A+.” Then, she adds, “In terms of how the government is actually regulating it in practice, I think it would be a C-.”
Overrun with regulations
At the start, Colorado regulators intended to treat cannabis like alcohol. “It is treated like alcohol to some extent,” Davis says, “but it’s very, very different for lots of intents and purposes.”
One of the key differences is the number of regulations applied to cannabis. Take the required labeling as an example. “There are not as many labeling requirements on plutonium and pesticides,” Davis exclaims. When I laugh and ask if that is really accurate, she says, “It’s a tad of an exaggeration, but there’s some truth to it.” As she quickly points out, “There are so many warning labels on marijuana that it’s almost amusing.” For instance, sellers must put more warning labels on marijuana than cigarettes.
Testing and interpretation
For the cannabis industry in general, testing remains a challenge. This arises largely from a lack of standardized and verified methods. In Colorado, Davis explains, “The testing labs are one place where the state gets a C-, because they are not reporting consistent results that can be replicated.”
In addition, Davis points out that even regulators cannot agree on what the existing laws mean. As she says, “My inbox is littered with emails from state regulators giving different answers to the same question.” That makes it difficult for any company in the cannabis industry to comply with regulations.
For people outside of Colorado, many know it as the place where cannabis is legal. “It is only legal under very specific and narrow rules,” Davis explains. “Outside those rules, it’s illegal.”
Ultimately, time might help Colorado’s cannabis regulatory environment move to an A+ all around. As with other challenges in the industry, legalization across states and countries should smooth the path to regulations that more people agree on and understand. Colorado is off to a good start, but more needs to be done.