Four years ago, the House passed Colorado’s Regulated Marijuana Delivery bill. The purpose was twofold: One, to make it possible for medical patients and recreational users to have cannabis delivered to their door and two, to build opportunities for new businesses, creating new jobs in the state.
As of 2020, Colorado started phasing in cannabis delivery permits for medical and recreational transporter businesses. It was largely meant to help Social Equity licensees, state-funded business grants to people who had been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of cannabis and who were often blocked from participating in the legal cannabis industry as a result. Many were hopeful that they could corner the market on this undeveloped aspect of the state’s legal cannabis industry.
But by 2022 that still hadn’t happened (See news, “Greenlining,” April 14, 2022). That’s despite there being a legal pathway for people to get licensed for delivery, and despite the Social Equity Licensees In Regulated Marijuana bill passing in 2020. That bill was aimed at expanding the accelerator program for Social Equity business licenses. To date, the state has issued 22 Social Equity business licenses — 14 of which were related to transportation.
In 2023, cannabis delivery still hasn’t taken off in Colorado. Dispensaries aren’t utilizing delivery services because of the complex processes and disjointed systems surrounding them. Operating legally out of a physical dispensary requires jumping through a lot of compliance hoops and expensive licensing. Setting up cannabis delivery on top of that would add to the challenge and investment.
“Unfortunately, less than 12% of Social Equity businesses are operational,” says Sarah Woodson, founder and executive director of The Color of Cannabis (TCC). “Because delivery was not meant to be a successful model — too much of the established industry is invested in a brick and mortar model so they won’t partner with delivery companies.”
Woodson says many Social Equity business owners believe established cannabis businesses don’t want to work with them because they’re part of the Social Equity accelerator program.
“The reality is there is truth to both views,” Woodson says. “The current laws create an undue burden on both parties.”
Woodson hopes to change that with a bill TCC is lobbying for on Capitol Hill: HB23-1020, the Social Equity Licenses in Regulated Marijuana bill.
TCC was established in 2019. Since then it’s helped lobby for bills HB19-1234, the Regulated Marijuana Delivery Bill, and HB20-1424, Social Equity Licenses in Regulated Marijuana. HB23-1020 would create accelerator licenses for hospitality businesses and transporter businesses, and also create a retail deliverer permittee accelerator license.
Importantly, HB23-1020 would allow recipients of these Social Equity licenses to “exercise the privileges of a retail marijuana store license without needing to obtain a retail marijuana store license or accelerator store license.”
The cost of obtaining either of those licenses is high, and comes with high application and renewal fees. For Social Equity applicants trying to start a business, those costs have represented barriers of entry, especially in the delivery space.
HB23-1020 would also require the Department of Revenue to create monetary incentives for both the Social Equity licensee and “Accelerator-Endorsed licensee,” an approved mentor business that can offer technical and capital support to an accelerator licensee. That could include waiving or reducing some of the fees that have discouraged many dispensaries from working with Social Equity transporters and delivery businesses.
Currently, the state requires a Social Equity applicant to have lived in an area in Colorado designated as an “Opportunity Zone” or as a “Disproportionate Impacted Area” for 15 years. HB23-1020 would lower that requirement to 10 years.
It would also expand the eligibility requirements to include anyone who has received assistance from programs like the low-income energy program, the supplemental nutrition assistance program, the Colorado Medical Assistance Act and others for at least five of the last 10 years.
HB23-1020 is sponsored by Rep. Naquetta Ricks (D-Aurora), and was introduced to the House on Jan. 9, 2023. To raise awareness and rally support for the bill, Woodson and TCC hosted a Lobby Day at the Capitol on Feb. 15. It was the second annual lobby day TCC has
“People are starting to understand that we have to always be educating and advocating for our livelihoods and businesses,” she says. “And being able to do this during Black History Month just emphasizes the importance of economic justice and representation not only in cannabis but in the business community in general.”