Colorado Governor Signs Cannabis Equity Bill to Help Grant Possession Pardons
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The governor of Colorado has signed a bill intended to help promote social equity within the state’s cannabis industry.
Approved on Monday, June 29, the new bill also gives Governor Jared Polis the power to mass-pardon Coloradans for convictions of cannabis possession of two ounces or less.
During a signing ceremony in Denver, Governor Polis approved the bill in front of Simply Pure, a dispensary owned by Wanda James and Scott Durrah, the first Black couple in the US to legally own a dispensary, a cultivation facility, and an edible company, according to their website.
First introduced by Colorado lawmakers on June 6, the bill’s primary aim is to make the state’s legal cannabis market more accessible to people of color and those from communities disproportionally affected by the war of drugs.
To qualify as a social equity licensee, cannabis business owners must meet at least one of three criteria: to have resided in Colorado for at least 15 years, to have been arrested or convicted for a cannabis offense (or to have an immediate family member who has been), or to have an income below a certain threshold.
“All hardworking Coloradans deserve a fair shot at sharing in the prosperity of the booming marijuana industry,” James Coleman, a Democratic Denver representative, said in a statement.
“This bill will help overcome decades of inequity in an industry where black people have been criminalized and others have been able to make profits. We should not be defined by our past alone, and this bill provides Coloradans who want to make an honest living in the marijuana industry with the opportunity to do so. Creating equal economic opportunity for all makes us stronger.”
In a last-minute move before the bill was finalized, another local Democratic representative, Jonathan Singer, added an amendment to allow mass-pardons for cannabis convictions of two ounces or less.
“Colorado has led the way for the nation’s fast-changing laws and attitudes towards marijuana,” Singer said in a statement.
“By allowing the governor to pardon individuals with small possession offenses and improving access and equity in the booming marijuana industry, this bill moves our state boldly forward. The bill signed today is good for small businesses, hardworking Coloradans, and our state’s economy as a whole.”
During his signing of the bill, Governor Polis said he could begin offering cannabis pardons within 90 days.
Social equity policies for the cannabis market have become a higher priority in Colorado in recent months. Back in April, the city of Denver created its first Marijuana Licensing Work Group to help better serve entrepreneurs from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.
In the same month, cannabis authorities in California launched a $30 million fund to support equitable business development in jurisdictions throughout the state. Illinois authorities announced a similar grant scheme in May.
According to data from the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, 88 percent of cannabis business owners in the state identified as Caucasian; 5 percent identified as Hispanic and 2 percent as Black. Just over 26 percent of applicants didn’t disclose their ethnicity.