A new piece of legislation making its way through Colorado’s state house would create a one-of-a-kind loophole in the state’s recreational marijuana law and make it near impossible for the federal government to single out and shut down the state’s legal weed industry.
Since White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer threatened “greater enforcement” of recreational cannabis laws last month, industry insiders and lawmakers alike have been scrambling to figure out how to best respond. While some are ignoring what they see as empty threats, and one Congressman tries to amend the Department of Justice budget to remove the Attorney General’s ability to spend federal cash on legal weed enforcement, the newest bill aimed at recreational cannabis protection would allow any licensed Colorado growers to instantly join the state’s medical marijuana program if the feds come knocking.
“If there is a change in federal law, then I think all of our businesses want to stay in business somehow. They’ve made major investments,” Sen. Tim Neville, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told PBS News Hour.
If the bill passes, all 500 of Colorado’s licensed recreational growers would be pre-qualified to join the state’s existing medical marijuana program, hopefully removing them from the scope of federal raids, confiscation, and arrest. After all, in his February comments Spicer made a point to differentiate the “big difference” between recreational and medical marijuana.
Even if the Trump administration does pursue a crackdown on the country’s legal weed industry, though and Colorado growers are able to protect themselves under the state’s medical umbrella, opponents of the bill are still worried that the reclassification would wreck the state’s cannabis tax structure, which collects 17.9% of recreational sales and only 2.9% of medical sales.
“It’s a big deal for our taxation system because this money has been coming in and has been set aside for this, that and the other,” said Sen. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat who voted against the bill. For example, if the recreational taxes are removed $40 million of pledged state education funding would be thrown out the window as well, with none of the medical taxes set aside make up the difference.
So while no one - including government officials - actually knows what the Trump administration will ultimately do concerning the country’s recreational cannabis industry, the efforts of legislators to preemptively protect their constituents is a good sign, even in the face of an Attorney General convinced that weed is akin to heroin.
“This bill allows the industry to know there is something after tomorrow, whatever tomorrow may bring,” Sen. Neville said.