Marijuana milestone: Colorado will allow delivery and tasting rooms soon under new laws — but with big catches

Starting next year, Colorado marijuana customers could begin getting their purchases delivered at home, like pizza. And people seeking to use marijuana socially — including tourists, who have few options for where to go — could consume what they buy in tasting rooms or bring-your-own-pot establishments.

But there’s a big catch: Both will depend on whether your local government has opted in.

That means it’s now up to mayors, city council members and county commissioners — and potentially local voters — to decide whether they want to allow consumption spaces and marijuana delivery within their borders. By signing the two bills into law Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis put the ball in their court.

The options are more likely to be embraced in cities such as Denver, which already has a small-scale social use licensing program, but they may be eschewed by more conservative places such as Colorado Springs, which lobbied the legislature for the chance to say no.

Advocates and supporters of the bills greeted Polis with applause for the afternoon signings — not least because his predecessor, fellow Democrat John Hickenlooper, had publicly worried about previous versions of the bills. He vetoed a tasting-rooms bill last year.

“Lawmakers’ approval and the governor’s enthusiasm for signing them into law indicate the state is ready to move forward with fulfilling Amendment 64’s promise to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” Jordan Wellington of VS Strategies, a Denver lobbying firm that specializes in cannabis issues, said before the ceremony.

What the new laws say

Home delivery, under House Bill 1234, can start first for medical marijuana to patients with red cards, in January. A year later, at the start of 2021, recreational shops and third-party delivery services will be able to get in the game. The new services could even use app-based ordering, though there are significant security precautions required.

The restrictions include not only that each town, city or county gets to decide whether to opt in, but also whether they want to allow deliveries to residents within their boundaries from dispensaries based elsewhere.

In any case, college campuses and dormitories are off-limits, and customers must meet age the current thresholds — 18 for medical, 21 for recreational.

Social consumption, under House Bill 1230, allows two types of businesses to get licensed starting in January: tasting rooms that can sell marijuana and marijuana products, and marijuana hospitality establishments, which can’t sell marijuana on-site — but can include tour buses.

For those establishments, patrons would bring their own marijuana.

The handful of businesses that have obtained licenses under Denver’s voter-approved social use program will need to apply for the new state license by year’s end to continue operating, and the new law may force questions for its City Council to consider.

What happens next?

Let the local discussions begin — and expect lobbying not only by recreational marijuana users and industry advocates but also by medical marijuana patients.

Polis and the bill sponsors cited that group as especially likely to benefit from delivery, since some have difficulty traveling to dispensaries or are home-bound. And social-use spaces would help tourists, they said, while potentially reducing illegal outdoor public consumption in parks and neighborhoods.

State regulators are charged with creating rules for the new licenses, along with overseeing training requirements for employees of new hospitality and social-use businesses.

While Wellington called the new laws “a big step forward,” he said nothing has changed for marijuana users yet. But he’s optimistic some cities will embrace the laws.

“While some localities may initially choose to opt out,” he said, “we expect many will quickly reconsider, just as many cities and towns did when it came to regulating (and allowing) adult sales.”