Pot protections 

A bill on Gov. Polis’ desk would protect working professionals from discipline over cannabis offenses

The American and Colorado flags at the Colorado state capitol building in Denver.

The Colorado legislative session ended on May 8, and with it, numerous cannabis and psychedelic bills went to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk, with several of them being signed into law the same week. 

So far Boulder Weekly has covered SB23-290, the Natural Medicine Regulation and Legalization bill, which provides specifics for how Colorado will enable the personal and therapeutic use of five natural psychedelic substances (Weed Between the Lines, “Laying down the law,” May 11, 2023). There was also HB23-1279, the Allow Retail Marijuana Online Sales bill, that permits dispensaries to start making online cannabis sales for pickup or delivery (Weed Between the Lines, “Weed web 2.0,” May 18, 2023).

One of several bills that was passed by the House and Senate but has yet to be signed is SB23-265, the Prohibit Professional Discipline For Marijuana bill. As the name implies, it would bar state regulators from denying or revoking professional certifications, registrations or licenses based solely on prior cannabis offenses or legal use. 

Similar to HB23-1279, this bill would essentially codify an executive order signed by Gov. Polis in 2022. That directive provided broad licensing protection for professionals and prevented state agencies from helping out-of-state investigations into lawful cannabis conduct that could have employment repercussions. 

“The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our State,” Polis said at the time he signed the executive order. “No one who lawfully consumes, possesses, cultivates or processes marijuana pursuant to Colorado law should be subject to professional sanctions or denied a professional license in Colorado.”

Polis made sure to clarify also that those protections extended to anyone who consumes, possesses, cultivates or processes marijuana in another state in a manner that would be legal in Colorado today. 

Occupations in Colorado’s cannabis industry, gambling, legal services, education and more depend on employees having specific licenses or certifications from the state. However, prior criminal cannabis offenses can sometimes block people from being able to get the licenses or certifications they need to do their jobs. And current cannabis use, even in perfectly legal situations, often risks having those licenses or certifications revoked. Which could cost someone their livelihood. 

Polis’ 2022 executive order was, in part, an effort to address workforce shortages at the time. 

SB23-265 would cement those protections into law today if the governor were to sign it. Anyone applying for a license, certification, or registration in the state of Colorado would be protected from being denied, and from being disciplined due to any previous civil or criminal cannabis offense. If the offense was “lawful” according to current Colorado statutes, and consistent with professional conduct and standards of care, they are safe from penalty. That extends to teachers, lawyers, engineers, cannabis professionals and anyone else who’s career depends on a license or certification. 

The bill also protects working professionals from disciplinary action based on their consumption, possession, cultivation, or processing of cannabis as long as they did not otherwise violate Colorado law. 

The prime sponsors of SB23-165 are Sen. Kevin Van Winkle (R-Douglas County), Rep. Marc Snyder (D-El Paso and Teller counties), and Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delat and Mesa counties). 

In 2022, a Colorado House committee shot down a bill that would have provided similar protections for employees who use cannabis while off the job. Despite that bill’s failure to pass, HB23-265 sailed through both the House and Senate. And it would similarly protect workers who use cannabis off the clock, as long as other laws aren’t being broken and it is not impeding their work. 

For now, workers are still protected by Polis’ executive order, even though this bill has not yet been signed into law. It is unclear whether it will be sent back to the Capitol for amendments, but Polis has been a long-time supporter of the cannabis legalization movement.