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This article was originally published on Hoban Law Group, and appears here with permission.

Although there are many metrics to calculate some of the damage the U.S. War on Drugs has inflicted on minorities the true extent of the damage may ultimately be too severe to be calculable.  The disastrous effects on minorities present in the foundations of social inequity are exponentially compounded as the years, decades and centuries go by.

But change always starts somewhere.  With HB-20-1424 Colorado takes its first momentous action towards addressing the social inequities inherent in Colorado’s regulated marijuana industry.  I cannot help but be reminded of a verse in one of my daughter’s favorite songs from Frozen 2 “The Next Right Thing”.  The context is different but in that song the protagonist Anna is faced with adversity and keeps reminding herself to “Take a step, step again.  It is all I can to do the next right thing.”  That is what Colorado has done; a step in the right direction to provide a path for economically disadvantaged communities and persons to house, own and operate a Colorado regulated marijuana business.

Colorado Residents Under HB 20-1424

Under HB 20-1424, Colorado residents that fall under one of three categories may be eligible to receive incentives from the Colorado Department of Revenue or the Office of Economic Development and International Trade towards their efforts own a Colorado regulated marijuana business.  These criteria are:

b)the individual or certain family members of the individual were arrested, convicted or subject to civil asset forfeiture related to marijuana; or

It is unclear what incentives will be offered to these individuals but HB 20-1424 clearly states a reduction in application or license fees may be available.

HB 20-1424 also calls for incentives to be provided to existing Colorado regulated marijuana businesses that endorse a social equity licensee in an effort to facilitate their success.  Again, it is unclear what incentives those will be but these are all steps in the right direction.

Another interesting aspect of HB 20-1424 is the ability of Colorado’s Governor to unilaterally grant pardons to individuals convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana without application and without input from district attorneys and judges.  The immediate impact of this section is not readily apparent to those affected but marijuana conviction records cross state lines.  Within Colorado a minor conviction like this does not have much significance but in states still in marijuana prohibition mode a minor marijuana conviction may have a disastrous impact on the individual’s ability to obtain employment, housing, government assistance or private loans.  The Governor’s pardon for these convictions is the first step towards expungement of the conviction through Colorado’s already liberal controlled substance expungement law.

Finally, HB 20-1424 mandates a qualified individual under the social equity program shall not be denied a social equity license solely on the grounds of a felony conviction or sentence within the preceding three years. Without statistics on the number of applicants that were denied licenses on these grounds it is unclear what impact this section will have towards social equity parity but definitively taking this measure is the right thing to do.  I do believe certain felonies should have excluded from this category but individual convicted of those felonies would most likely exhibit other conduct that may serve as a separate basis for denial.  As it stands, the “worst case scenario” is highly unlikely to occur.

Social Equity License Colorado

Social equity license applicants are eligible to submit their applications January 1, 2021.  Between now and then expect to see the Colorado Department of Revenue: Marijuana Enforcement Division promulgate rule governing the details of these applications and promulgate them fairly quickly.  In this past year, the Division has prioritized social equity advancement and held extensive rule-making work sessions to prepare for and facilitate HB 20-1424.  Expect the Division to be equally diligent when turning HB 20-1424 into administrative rules and expanding on the details of the program.

Colorado has taken a step and has done the right thing.  Now it is time for Colorado to continue to step again… and again to do the next right thing.

Written by Craig Small

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.
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