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Colorado Gov. Polis pardons 2,732 people with convictions for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana

Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday issued an executive order pardoning 2,732 people with low-level marijuana convictions as part of legislation recently passed by the Colorado legislature.

The pardons — made in a blanket action and not after individual case considerations — were issued to people convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The Democrat said the action was “cleaning up some of the inequities of the past.”

Polis was able to grant the mass pardons because of the passage of House Bill 1424, which seeks to emphasize social equity in marijuana licensing by giving minorities increased access to Colorado’s legal marijuana industry.

“It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970’s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success,” Polis said in a written statement. “Too many Coloradans have been followed their entire lives by a conviction for something that is no longer a crime, and these convictions have impacted their job status, housing and countless other areas of their lives.”

Coloradans voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Ever since, cannabis and criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing the state to address the thousands of historic convictions in Colorado for low-level marijuana possession. However, they have only been able to find piecemeal approaches to addressing the issue — until now.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

Dillon OKs marijuana lounges despite public pushback

DILLON — Visitors soon will be able to enjoy marijuana products in designated and highly regulated lounges around Dillon, one of the first towns in Colorado to opt into allowing such establishments.

The Dillon Town Council approved an ordinance Tuesday, Sept. 15, allowing currently licensed marijuana dispensaries to open hospitality establishments. The measure passed in a split 5-2 vote despite pushback from community members who voiced concerns about safety and the town’s identity.

“This is not about whether you smoke pot or know somebody who does,” council member Brad Bailey said. “This is about an existing industry and what I consider the reasonable evolution of that industry. … A lot of the public comments were about the health concerns and about ventilation. And I think we’ve addressed those through this ordinance.”

The ordinance allows the three existing dispensaries in Dillon to open hospitality lounges in an enclosed but adjoining area where guests can smoke or consume other marijuana products under the guidance of store employees.

Each lounge would need an additional license to operate and would be required to meet a number of safety measures. The establishments also would have to provide a transportation plan that identifies safe routes for pedestrians to the town center along with other transportation options to get patrons where they’re going without driving.

In addition to existing laws prohibiting marijuana sales to anyone who is visibly intoxicated, the ordinance bars lounge participants from buying marijuana at the attached retail store on the same day. The new codes also allow the town to implement strict requirements for ventilation systems, which are meant to protect first responders, employees and other nonparticipants from inhaling smoke.

The hospitality establishments are subject to the same hours of operation restrictions as the dispensaries (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and the lounges have to take their last appointment at least 1 1/2 hours before closing. Employees can’t serve any products to anyone within an hour of closing.

The marijuana lounge concept as it stands in Colorado is relatively new. Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing the sale and consumption of marijuana at licensed establishments. But first, local municipalities have to opt in.

With the ink barely dry on the new codes, officials said the town hasn’t received any formal proposals yet. But it likely won’t take too long.

Aaron Bluse, owner of Altitude Organic Cannabis, was the first to approach the Town Council with the idea late last year, and he has plans to move forward with the concept immediately. Bluse said he’s already requested an application and that he will be working carefully with his team and the town to make sure everything is up to snuff.

“We’re taking a diligent approach,” Bluse said. “We have to go through a design-planning phase, application phase, build-out phase and implementation. So it’s going to take a little time, but good things are worth the wait. We’re going to make sure that this is done right, that it’s something everyone can stand behind and something we can enjoy for years to come.”

Others aren’t as confident the lounges are a good idea. Several community members wrote in letters or dialed into the virtual council meeting to provide their thoughts on the topic, almost universally voicing a desire to keep the establishments out of Dillon.

Dr. Don Parsons, former mayor pro-tem, said the council has an obligation to protect the safety and welfare of the town’s residents and visitors, and he voiced concerns about the health risks of smoking and whether smoke could effectively be dispersed from the room.

Others expressed concerns about intoxicated drivers and the cultural impact the lounges could have on the town.

“If this is such a great idea, why aren’t there lounges on Main Street in Breckenridge or Frisco?” Len Szmurlo said. “Why are all these dispensaries tucked away on Airport Road or on the backstreets of all these towns? … I think the council has made great strides in improving the town with all these current developments being built. Why take the unnecessary chance of undermining these accomplishments with a business that is being looked upon as unappealing, at the least, by the majority of visitors and residents?”

A recent unscientific Summit Daily News reader poll found that 229 out of 427 (54%) of respondents said they were not in favor of the marijuana hospitality establishments.

Council members Karen Kaminski and Renee Imamura echoed residents’ concerns.

“I kind of disagreed with this from the start,” Kaminski said. “There are just aspects of it that I don’t think fit the community, and I never have, for the image that I want to see in Dillon. Listening to the public comments, I think we have public speaking out that don’t want this in our community. And there are good reasons for it.”

But the other council members ultimately felt that the ordinance was sufficiently restrictive to mitigate any negative side effects of the marijuana lounges in town and that many residents were expressing misconceptions about the lounge concept and marijuana users themselves.

“I didn’t feel that I heard anything that compelled me against the direction I’d been leaning on this as we’ve had our conversations and worked through a lot of our concerns we brought up,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “I see this as a very similar, but much more restrictive, bar situation. And I think offering the ride home is a lot better than we do at bars, where they’re not mandated to offer a ride home or have a service available. I think we’re going above and beyond here.”

Bluse called the community’s concerns his own and assured residents that public safety is a top priority. Still, he expressed excitement at what he called a long-overdue place for marijuana users to enjoy themselves.

“This could potentially be one of the first handful of lounges in the nation,” Bluse said. “The honor is great, and the excitement is equal. It’s a dream come true. We’re going to be changing some of the social-cultural future of our country, and that’s something we’re deeply moved by and deeply passionate about. That’s all in the pursuit of our individual liberties.”

Nearly 16,000 illegal marijuana plants netted in multi-agency operation north of Rifle

Thousands of illegally grown marijuana plants valued on the black market at more than $7.5 million were destroyed and six arrested during a multi-agency operation north of Rifle on Tuesday.

The grow bust netted nearly 16,000 individual marijuana plants over five sites on a mixture of public and private land northwest of Rifle Gap Reservoir, said Steven Knight, DEA resident agent in charge. 

“There have been bigger (illegal grows) but in Colorado that’s a pretty big one,” he said. “That’s the biggest one I know of this year.”

Law enforcement officers hike past a cleared marijuana field north of Rifle on Tuesday afternoon. The operation included numerous agencies: DEA, FBI, ATF, TRIDENT, Western Colorado Drug Task Force, Seventh Judicial Drug Task Force, Homeland Security, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado National Guard, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and Rifle Police Department. 
Peter Baumann / Post Independent

Each plant is capable of producing roughly one pound of finished product per growing cycle. With an estimated black market value of $500-$700, the bust diverted millions of dollars from the illicit drug market.

The six individuals arrested were all Hispanic males. Their citizenship status was not immediately clear but they will face manufacturing with intent to distribute charges and possibly others from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. No firearms were recovered in the operation.

“If any of those cooperate and give us information, we’ll build upon that,” Knight said of the arrested individuals. “And there’s usually some type of electronic evidence in the grows that we could exploit and determine who else is behind it.”

Dozens of agencies partnered together on the operation, which began in the early morning hours Tuesday and continued well into Wednesday.

“It’s hard work, it’s labor-intensive, it’s a big operation and it takes a lot of people to do it,” Knight said. “There’s no one agency that could have done that. It took a major team of all the state, federal and local offices and agencies together.”

Federal, state and local agencies worked together for the operation, including DEA, FBI, ATF, TRIDENT, Western Colorado Drug Task Force, Seventh Judicial Drug Task Force, Homeland Security, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado National Guard, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and Rifle Police Department.

Marijuana possession and cultivation is legal in Colorado, but the fields destroyed Tuesday were cultivated for the illicit market. For legal marijuana, Colorado has numerous regulatory requirements. In addition, marijuana produced for the legal market is sold by local businesses and generates tax revenue for education, public health, human services and more, the Colorado Sun reports. 

Marijuana grown for sale on the black market follows no regulatory process and provides none of those revenue benefits. Instead, the revenue generated would have gone to drug cartels in Mexico, Knight said.

“In this case the money would have gone south,” he said.

It can be difficult to determine how long illegal grow operations have been in place, but Knight said there were signs that the areas had been seasonally active for multiple years.

“We don’t know exactly but it looks like some of these grows could be repetitive grows meaning they were there before just based on satellite photos,” he said.

A campsite is seen at one of the illegal marijuana grow sites north of Rifle on Tuesday. Six Hispanic males were arrested during the operation. 
Peter Baumann / Post Independent

The sites don’t just represent a danger to the agents in the operation or anyone from the public who might have randomly stumbled upon them — they also can be detrimental to the environment. In Tuesday’s operation, irrigation for some of the sites was supplied by diverting water from nearby streams.

Fertilizers and pesticides used can also pose a serious health risk. Although it wasn’t found in this week’s operation, the highly toxic and banned pesticide Carbofuran is becoming more common in illegal grows out West, Knight said, and was discovered at a similar operation in Las Animas County in 2019.

While the remote nature and rough terrain of the sites were likely beneficial to keeping the grows hidden, it’s still unclear why that area was chosen in particular.

“They might have some type of inside knowledge of the area, but it’s a great question,” Knight said. “They just go to these remote places and obviously they want to be where people are not.”

pbaumann@postindependent.com

Weed vending machine debuts in Colorado with more on the way

In an era when consumers can buy groceries, pet supplies and even a life-size cardboard cutout of Lizzo without directly seeing a human, one company is ensuring Coloradans can also purchase their cannabis contactless.

Matt Frost is founder and CEO of a company called anna, which makes what he calls a “tricked out vending machine” designed to take and fill orders for marijuana products. The first ones landed at Strawberry Fields dispensary in central Pueblo, where customers can now purchase flower, edibles and vape oils without having to interact with a budtender. They’ll debut at a second dispensary, Starbuds in Aurora, sometime this year.hom

Frost, whose background is in healthcare data analytics, originally developed the concept to adapt the efficiency of a retail self-checkout system to the marijuana industry. In his home state of Massachusetts, dispensary waits can be hours-long and some shops require patrons schedule a pickup time for pre-ordered products.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic forced pot shops to adapt to increased demand for online ordering and curbside pickup, Frost saw an opportunity to help them modernize and get in on the contactless craze.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Legal cannabis sales in Colorado reach all-time high in May

DENVER (AP) — Cannabis sales in Colorado set a new monthly record in May, reaching their highest level since broad legalization in 2014.

Dispensaries sold over $192 million worth of cannabis products that month, according to data from the state Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division compiled by The Denver Post. That figure is up about 29% from April and 32% from May 2019.

Sales at medical and recreational marijuana shops hit monthly all-time highs, with just under $43 million and just over $149 million, respectively.

In all, the cannabis industry has sold more than $779 million in products so far this year and paid more than $167 million in taxes and fees to the state.

Colorado dispensaries were deemed essential businesses during the early days of the pandemic when there were statewide stay-at-home orders. So far, monthly cannabis sales this year have consistently outpaced 2019, which was the highest-grossing year on record.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs bill to pardon marijuana convictions

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law Monday that allows him to mass-pardon Coloradans with minor marijuana possession convictions, although he has not said exactly how the process will work.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 1424 on June 15, the last day of the 2020 legislative session. The bill aims to make the legal marijuana industry more accessible to people of color and those who were previously convicted on drug charges that wouldn’t be crimes now. It expands the social equity program for marijuana business licenses to Colorado residents who have been arrested or convicted on a marijuana offense, been subject to civil asset forfeiture from a marijuana offense, or lived in an area designated as high crime or economically disadvantaged.

“For decades now, the Black community has been disproportionately criminalized because of marijuana while others have profited,” said Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat and bill sponsor. “We have needed to act on this injustice for decades.”

In a last-minute move, lawmakers agreed to add another component to the bill: giving the governor the power to mass-pardon Coloradans for convictions of marijuana possession of 2 ounces or less, rather than doing them on an individual basis. Longmont Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer added the amendment after the pandemic forced him to drop plans for a more extensive marijuana expungement bill.

Polis signed the bill Monday night at Simply Pure in Denver, a dispensary owned by Wanda James and Scott Durrah, the first Black couple in the country to own a dispensary, a cultivation facility and an edible company, according to their website.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Banking for marijuana companies included in Congress’ new $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill

Cannabis industry advocates applauded House Democrats on Tuesday after a new $3 trillion federal stimulus bill included provisions to allow marijuana businesses access to banking.

Introduced by House speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes wide-ranging goals to address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, from offering financial assistance to state and local governments to forgiving student loan debt.

Wrapped into the massive, 1,815-page bill is an initiative led by Colorado Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow legal cannabis businesses to leverage traditional banking services.

Proponents of the bill, which passed the House on its own last September, say it promotes public safety by offering the marijuana industry an alternative to dealing in cash — a factor experts say is motivating an increasing number of burglaries at dispensaries and cultivations. The SAFE Banking Act has been under review by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs since last year.

Cannabis industry advocates applauded House Democrats on Tuesday after a new $3 trillion federal stimulus bill included provisions to allow marijuana businesses access to banking.

Introduced by House speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes wide-ranging goals to address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, from offering financial assistance to state and local governments to forgiving student loan debt.

Wrapped into the massive, 1,815-page bill is an initiative led by Colorado Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow legal cannabis businesses to leverage traditional banking services.

Proponents of the bill, which passed the House on its own last September, say it promotes public safety by offering the marijuana industry an alternative to dealing in cash — a factor experts say is motivating an increasing number of burglaries at dispensaries and cultivations. The SAFE Banking Act has been under review by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs since last year.

Read more via The Denver Post.

4/20 parties from online concerts to workshops to celebrate the marijuana holiday

420 for a Cause

Local musicians, comedians and service-industry personnel have been financially devastated by event cancellations and restaurant closures due to the coronavirus. That’s why 420 for a Cause is focusing its efforts on raising money for organizations like the Colorado Restaurant Association and Colorado Comedy Relief Fund, which benefit those hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. And it’s bringing in A-list entertainment to do so. Expect live sets from bands including The Disco Biscuits, Thievery Corporation, Lotus and Motet, as well as comedians like Doug Benson, Beth Stelling, Jonah Ray and more.

The event starts at 1 p.m. at 420foracause.com and is scheduled to run 4 hours and 20 minutes (fittingly), with a countdown to 4:20 p.m. and a ceremonious “bud drop.”

4/20 Smoke-in with Snoop Dogg

It wouldn’t be a bonafide weed-smoking holiday without an appearance by Snoop Dogg. In honor of the digital debut of Dr. Dre’s critically acclaimed album The Chronic, available on streaming platform for the first time on April 20, DJ Snoopadelic will spin a set on cannabis publication Merry Jane’s Instagram. Tune in and get your groove on starting at 5:20 p.m.

420 YouTube Live

If podcasts are more your thing, join a live broadcast that brings together weed-focused programs I’m Too Effing High, Weed + Grub, and Great Moments in Weed History for an evening of thematic conversation, comedy, cooking demonstrations, and more fun. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. on I’m Too Effing High’s YouTube channel.

4/20 at The Coffee Joint

The Coffee Joint, a social consumption lounge in Denver, is known for regularly hosting workshops and networking events. Since it can’t host them in person right now, it’ll be moving some events online to celebrate the holiday. On April 18-20, the shop will be streaming live podcast recording sessions, games, painting lessons and giveaways on its Instagram and Facebook pages.

4/20 World Record

Meetups on video platform Zoom have quickly become a popular quarantine pastime. On April 20, California-based cannabis entrepreneur Tony Diepenbrock is hosting a virtual conference in hopes of setting the world record for the most people consuming cannabis on video chat. RSVP at 420worldrecord.com to be one of 1,000 people to receive a Zoom invitation. The smoke session takes place at 5:20 p.m. Colorado time. Diepenbrock is also accepting donations and selling T-shirts to benefit the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit focused on exonerating those serving jail time for nonviolent marijuana crimes.

4/20 Special from Nightmares on Wax

Several musicians have taken to social media during quarantine to broadcast live concerts. On April 20, Coloradans can start celebrating at 11 a.m. with a 4/20 special set from renowned DJ Nightmares on Wax, who will be performing from his iconic studio in Ibiza. Follow Nightmares on Wax on Instagram to get a notification when he goes live on IGTV.

Read more via The Denver Post.

High Country: Silverpeak and 520 Grill team up for a first-of-its-kind dine-in dispensary in Aspen

Professional race car driver, serial entrepreneur, and extreme athlete are three titles Chapman Ducote has held over the past 20 years. And now at the dawn of a new decade, he’s added yet another one to his hat: cannaboss.

As the new CEO of pioneering luxury cannabis dispensary Silverpeak, Ducote and co-owner James Young acquired the licensed store in Aspen and High Valley Farms, its cultivation operation in nearby Basalt for $8.35 million in January (DBA Silverpeak Real Estate) from previous owner Jordan Lewis.

Ducote exclusively shared with the Aspen Times that he’s entered into a partnership with longtime local Troy Selby, chef and owner of 520 Grill, which opened in Silverpeak’s neighboring space in 2010. By the end of the year, the company’s second act plans to grow into the largest cannabis retail chain in Colorado with more than 20 newly acquired and rebranded Silverpeak dispensary locations, plus six new grow facilities across the state.

Ducote is confident that despite coronavirus, expansion plans will remain on-schedule.

“This was already in the works before the pandemic,” Ducote told me during a phone interview. “[Coronavirus] fast-tracked our agreement so, we’re sort of full steam ahead in making the switch-over. Troy is a great guy with a great restaurant …. and more importantly, a great reputation, which commands a tremendous amount of my respect.”

Added Selby: “It’s always just been the two of us down here for the last 10 years. Rebranding the building and being able to work together officially, we will come out of this stronger together and even more of a desirable destination for tourists and locals to come hang out and have an experience that’s beyond the norm.”

Under the new arrangement, Selby will remain at the helm of what, as of April 20, is now Silverpeak Grill — the first-ever dispensary in the country to operate an adjacent restaurant (unlike the cannabis consumption-friendly restaurants that have opened in cities like Los Angeles). A soon-to-be-announced additional hospitality concept will take over the current Silverpeak Mercantile space this summer, which Selby will also manage. Plus, the 520 Grill brand will still live on in the form of a food truck in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Opening a food truck has been a dream of mine for years,” Selby said. “That’s a great thing about this — it’s not an ownership as much as it is a merger of brands. We’re an actively involved partnership that’s creating a new and different vibe.”

The soft opening, billed as Silverpeak Grill To-Go, includes a limited menu of 520 favorites for take-out. Once Selby is able to welcome his loyal customers back inside to dine-in, he and his staff will keep most of the menu largely the same, but with the addition of CBD infusions and hemp-based add-ons using oil sourced from High Valley Farms.

Though adult-use legalization has swept the country since Silverpeak first opened its doors as one of Aspen’s first medical dispensaries in 2009, few marijuana retailers rival its signature high-end experience. An interior-design overhaul was completed in 2013 by the Argentinian architecture firm Tanagram Design, resulting in a shopping environment that sparked the trend of cannabis with class.

“That’s the interesting thing about Silverpeak … it’s a very well-known brand worldwide. There’s a global audience coming to Aspen and they’re seeking out the best. Silverpeak is the store they know and choose,” said Ducote, who originally got into the industry seven years ago through a colleague at his credit card processing company, Merchant Services, where he recently stepped down as CEO after 16 years; he also consults with Delta Carbon Yachts for the Americas and splits his time between Aspen and Miami. “We want to build on that recognition, which is why we’ve chosen to use our brand as the platform and carry that DNA across all of our other stores and cutting-edge concepts.”

Silverpeak will make significant interior cosmetic changes to mimic the look and feel of its acclaimed, design-forward dispensary inside Silverpeak Grill in the coming months. The team is hopeful to celebrate a grand opening whenever restaurants resume regular operations.

“I thought that going back to being myself [after coronavirus closures lift] was doable, but thought, ‘Why not take advantage of this timing and do something bigger and be a part of something that has never been done before?,’” Selby shared. “I cannot wait to have people back in the space together talking, gathering and eating.”

“As important as driving business to all three spaces will be, giving patrons this whole new experience that just doesn’t exist anywhere in the world is very exciting,” said Ducote. “That’s really what it’s all about for us.”

Colorado’s marijuana businesses should be eligible for federal coronavirus aid, Polis tells Congress

Colorado’s cannabis industry is allowed to remain open to provide “critical” services during the coronavirus pandemic, but because marijuana is a federally controlled substance, dispensaries and other businesses are ineligible to receive stimulus funds to help offset the economic impacts caused by COVID-19.

Many say they’re struggling.

Gov. Jared Polis, however, is hoping to lend a helping hand. On Monday, Polis sent a letter to Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora, a member of the House Small Business Committee, urging the committee to reconsider allowing cannabis businesses to apply for federal aid.

“Unfortunately, a large number of small businesses in Colorado are not eligible for these loans due to their involvement in the state-legal cannabis industry, which is a major employer and tax revenue generator in our state,” Polis wrote.

The implications of this reach wider than marijuana dispensaries, cultivations and manufacturers in a legal state, Polis argued, since Small Business Administration loans for coronavirus disaster relief are not available to ancillary businesses, such as legal and consulting firms, that serve the industry either.

“As you can imagine, there are hundreds of Colorado companies that fall into the latter category, from HVAC companies and lighting equipment suppliers to law firms and accounting firms,” Polis said.

Read more via The Denver Post.