As marijuana reform happens across the country, Colorado continues to lead the way. On October 1st, Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order that pardoned almost 3,000 Coloradans who were convicted by the State of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, thereby restoring all rights of citizenship without condition. In doing so, Gov. Polis stated that Colorado was “…finally cleaning up some of the inequalities of the past…” that were created by former anti-marijuana policies. The power to issue the pardons was included in a bipartisan bill signed into law in June that included provisions promoting social equity in Colorado’s legal marijuana market.
HB20-1424, titled Social Equity Licensees in Regulated Marijuana, changed the term “accelerator licensee” to “social equity licensee” in the Colorado Marijuana Code, as well as, amended those who qualified for such licensees. The accelerator licensing program pairs established marijuana business owners with disadvantaged applicants who may not have the necessary skills or access to traditional funding sources to enter the space. Under the new bill, social equity applicants can now apply for these licenses if the applicant is a Colorado resident and has not been the owner of a revoked cannabis license, and can demonstrate at least one of the following: 1) The applicant has resided for at least fifteen years between the years 1980 and 2010 in a census tract designated by the office of economic development and international trade as an opportunity zone or designated as a disproportionately impacted area; 2) The applicant or the applicant’s parent, legal guardian, sibling, spouse, child, or minor in their guardianship was arrested for a marijuana offense, convicted of a marijuana offense, or was subject to civil asset forfeiture related to a marijuana investigation; or 3) The applicant’s household income in the year prior to application did not exceed an amount to be determined by the state licensing authority (Colorado Department of Revenue). Additionally, the social equity licensee must hold at least fifty-one percent of the beneficial ownership of the marijuana business license.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s new marijuana social equity program has limitations starting with the fact that it will be implemented more than eight years after legalization. The marketplace is largely established and social equity entrants will face stiff competition in a highly regulated industry; however, Colorado is trying to acknowledge, and right, some of the inequities that have disproportionately affected people of color. Gov. Polis’ executive order pardoning those who were convicted of marijuana possession is another step in the right direction. Hopefully, this step also will help social equity licensees create new paths that will become part of Colorado’s journey.