Colorado’s First-In-The-Nation Marijuana “Tasting Rooms” Bill Heads To Hickenlooper’s Desk

Photo Credit: Brennan Linsley

Licensed marijuana “tasting rooms” could be operating in Colorado by this time next year if Gov. John Hickenlooper signs a first-of-its-kind bill that state lawmakers sent to his desk Thursday.

The bill allows adults at current recreational marijuana retailers to consume small amounts through edibles or by vaping — as they might a flight of fine whiskeys or craft beers.

House Bill 1258 would be another vanguard moment for a state that implemented first-in-the-nation adult-use cannabis sales back in 2014.

Industry observers say it also shows that Colorado is taking baby steps toward a statewide regime for social marijuana use.

“It’s a way to wrap our brains around what the regulatory structure would look like for public consumption,” said Peter Marcus, spokesman for Terrapin Care Station, a Colorado marijuana dispensary chain that supported the bill.

Colorado law prohibits marijuana consumption in public spaces; however, the state is home to several unlicensed cannabis clubs. Also, the city of Denver has started issuing licenses after a voter-approved initiative for marijuana social-use establishments.

Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, said Colorado would break ground with the legislative-approved social-consumption regulations.

The concept greatly differs from pot clubs, he said, in that it is limited to current recreational marijuana retailers and does not allow customers to share or bring their own pot into the consumption area.

“You really just get to sample what that dispensary or provider has, so it’s really more of a tasting room,” he said.

One problem the legislation hopes to address: the limited options for tourists and others to consume marijuana and how that often pushes it into public view in parks and sidewalks.

“This is a way so tourists aren’t consuming on the sidewalks, which was something that was never intended by Amendment 64 (of Colorado’s constitution),” he said.

While some regulations, including purchase limits, would be subject to the Marijuana Enforcement Division rule-making process, the accessory consumption establishment bill does prohibit food, smoking, alcohol, employee consumption, free samples and BYO cannabis.

For a business to land an “endorsement” for a tasting room, it also would need to get the blessing of its local municipality.

Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said the legislation is a “natural evolution” in Colorado’s regulation of the pot industry.

“I think this moves the ball forward in allowing the industry to do some sort of consumption … but does it in a way that I would say is pretty conservative,” he said. “It’s actually pretty limited.”

Attempts to create regulations for full-fledged marijuana social clubs have foundered.

Last month, a Senate committee killed a bill to establish a marijuana consumption club license. Last year, a legislative bid for cannabis clubs was scrapped after Hickenlooper bristled at the idea.

Allowing social-use clubs would fly in the face of Amendment 64’s prohibition of public consumption, Hickenlooper said. Additionally, he said the maneuver would violate Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

Notably, Hickenlooper cautioned that expanding marijuana’s presence in Colorado might not be wise, given the uncertainty of how the federal government may choose to enforce the Schedule I substance.

A Hickenlooper spokeswoman said the office is still reviewing the bill approved Thursday.

The idea for marijuana tasting rooms, however, has been more palatable for some state regulators.

The Marijuana Enforcement Division, which opposed this year’s cannabis club legislation, is neutral on HB 1258. MED director Jim Burack called the approach “incremental” and “responsible.”

Not all view the tasting rooms concept in that manner. The Clean Indoor Air Act concerns have not dissipated — the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, or ACSCAN, are among the groups opposing the bill.

Smoking would be prohibited in the marijuana accessory consumption establishments; however, consumers could consume marijuana concentrate via edibles or oil-filled vapor inhalation devices.

“The person there is inhaling this second-hand emission,” said R.J. Ours, Colorado government relations director for ACSCAN. “It isn’t vapor. It’s chemical aerosol.”

The combustion and subsequent inhalation of a processed chemical mixture create concerns that include irritants and carcinogenic effects, he said.

ACSCAN and other opponents plan to submit a formal veto request.

Marijuana public use/on-site consumption in other states

Alaska — Banned, but rule-making is in process for a consumption endorsement for marijuana use in dispensaries.

California — Not allowed anywhere smoking is banned; however, on-site consumption is permitted with city approval and allowed in private clubs or private events.

Colorado — Statewide “open and public” use banned; however, local policies have created “private club” exemptions. The city of Denver legalized non-smoked marijuana use in licensed businesses.

Maine — Allows for licensure of “social clubs” where retail marijuana products are sold. Legislation has been proposed to limit social use.

Massachusetts — Draft regulations proposed for on-site consumption for licensed marijuana businesses, potentially in combination with another service such as yoga studios and spas.

Nevada — No public use allowed, but definition of public spaces does not include retail marijuana stores.

Oregon — Prohibited.

Washington — Prohibited.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures