A bill allowing adults to consume small amounts of cannabis by eating edibles or vaping marijuana concentrate or marijuana products on the premises of a duly licensed recreational marijuana retailer was sent to the desk of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on Thursday, May 3, 2018. If signed into law, House Bill 1258 would be the first of its kind in the nation, creating licensed cannabis “tasting rooms.”

Colorado has been a leader in cannabis since 2014, when it was the first state to legalize recreational adult cannabis sales. Now, Colorado continues to show its progressive stance towards legalizing cannabis sales and consumption, with this bill, which shows a carefully created plan for social cannabis consumption on the state level. In addition, this bill highlights the State’s effort to educate consumers, and allows legislatures to begin a conversation related to safe, public consumption.

According to the Denver PostRepresentative Jovan Melton (Democrat – Aurora) indicated that this is a groundbreaking approach to legislature-approved social-consumption regulations. He also said that the “tasting room” concept differs from cannabis clubs, in that customers will not be allowed to bring their own cannabis or share cannabis with others in the legal consumption area. In addition, the proposed law is limited to current recreational cannabis retailers, who will need to obtain additional licensing to permit the consumption on their premises.

“You really just get to sample what that dispensary or provider has, so it’s really more of a tasting room,” he said. He added that this solves a problem frequently encountered by tourists and other consumers of cannabis: the inability to publicly consume cannabis. “This is a way so tourists aren’t consuming on the sidewalks, which was something that was never intended by Amendment 64,” he said.

The bill does not provide a free-for-all for consumption in recreational stores, however. Some regulations, such as purchase limits, would be regulated by the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), and subject to the MED’s rule-making procedures. The accessory consumption establishment bill prohibits food, smoking, alcohol, employee consumption, free samples, and bringing your own cannabis. In addition, any licensed recreational dispensary would need to gain the approval of their local licensing authority (generally city or county level) before seeking MED approval. No smoking of cannabis would be allowed in recreational dispensaries, a continuation of current regulations.

Senator Steve Fenberg (Democrat – Boulder) said that the bill is a “natural evolution” in the regulation of cannabis by Colorado. “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. It’s actually pretty limited,” he told the Denver Post. 

This middle ground between public consumption and a “social club” helps ease the ability of tourists and others to consume cannabis without violating Colorado laws, including the Colorado Clean Air Act. In addition, efforts to establish cannabis-centric social clubs have not gotten very far in previous attempts.

Governor Hickenlooper’s office said that they are still reviewing the bill. Hickenlooper has cautioned against rapid expansion of cannabis in Colorado, given the uncertainty of its status at the federal level under this administration, and the growing concerns that the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to have the ability to enforce the current Schedule I classification at any time.

The MED (which has previously opposed other cannabis club legislation) is neutral on this bill. Jim Burack, its director, said that this bill is an “incremental” and “responsible” approach.  While cannabis consumption in public spaces remains illegal in Colorado under Amendment 64, the city of Denver has issued licenses for social-use cannabis establishments after a voter-approved initiative passed last year.

Peter Marcus, whose company, Terrapin Care Station, supported the bill, said, “It’s way to wrap our brains around what the regulatory structure would look like for public consumption.”

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