Online cannabis sales were legal in Colorado for just over a year thanks to one of the executive orders signed by Gov. Jared Polis during the COVID-19 pandemic, D 2020 011. And now, after a three-year hiatus, online sales are coming back — this time, permanently.
Executive Order 11 was one of the least controversial orders the governor signed in 2020. It allowed businesses to sell, deliver and offer takeout services for alcohol. It suspended vehicle weight restrictions so emergency supplies could be delivered. And it postponed physical examinations for medical cannabis card issuances.
But the order also made it possible for cannabis businesses in Colorado to accept online orders — something the law explicitly prohibits normally.
Colorado’s temporarily legal online ordering service was one a lot of people took advantage of during the pandemic; to skip the lines, to avoid as much in-person contact as possible, and sometimes just because it was convenient. And everything ran smoothly for almost 14 months, right up until Executive Order 11 expired and online sales became illegal again.
In February 2021, Rep. Matt Gray tried to pass HB21-1058, Promoting Social Distancing in Marijuana Industry, which would have made online cannabis sales permanently legal here. However, despite the temporary permittance of online sales for so long without incident, HB21-1058 became entangled with public fears and an ongoing debate surrounding underage access to cannabis products (Weed Between the Lines, “Concentrated Regulation,” July 1, 2021). The House Finance Committee shot Gray’s bill down in a 7-4 vote on May 20, 2021.
But now, two full years after the last legal online cannabis sales were made, Gov. Polis has signed a new bill into law that will reallow Coloradans to buy weed online. HB23-1279, the Allow Retail Marijuana Online Sales bill, permits dispensaries to “accept payment online for the sale of retail marijuana and retail marijuana products.”
Cannabis pre-orders are currently legal. But they still require the customer to make their purchase in person at the dispensary. This bill changes that, though it would still require the customer to provide a valid ID to prove they are of age either at the dispensary or to a delivery driver upon pickup.
Not only will this bill bring the cannabis industry into the e-commerce era, it will help address several serious problems the cannabis industry faces today — the largest of which has to do with banking. Currently, banks that openly accept cannabis business money risk losing their banking insurance, which is why many of them still refuse to accept cannabis business customers. That’s also why the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was reintroduced into the House last month for the third time since 2019 (Weed Between the Lines, “Reintroducing SAFE,” March 25, 2021). That bill would offer protections for banks so that they could finally accept money from these state-legal businesses.
However, HB23-1279 would provide a workaround to the banking problem through online sales.
Not only will that make transactions easier for dispensaries, it will make them safer. Because most dispensaries encourage or flat-out require cash purchases, they’re put in a dangerous situation. With so much cash on hand all the time, dispensaries have become a target for robbery — which sometimes ends in violence. By allowing dispensaries another alternative to cash transactions, the state is helping reduce that problem.
And finally, this might be the push Colorado needs to help get cannabis delivery services off the ground. Cannabis delivery business licenses have been reserved for social equity companies — businesses owned by people disproportionately affected by the war on drugs — and dispensaries are required by law to use social equity transporters or business owners for delivery services (Weed Between the Lines, “Punch the Gas,” Feb. 16, 2023).
But it hasn’t taken off. For a host of reasons, cannabis delivery isn’t a service the public is widely taking advantage of, primarily because the laws surrounding delivery are complicated and require significant investments from dispensaries to partner with a third-party social-equity transporter. Many hope that legal online orders will simplify that and help delivery businesses finally get off the ground.
HB23-1279 will take effect sometime in mid-July, making things easier, safer, and hopefully more equitable for everyone.