Thursday March 28, 2019
By Andrew Ward
Colorado recently inaugurated Jared Polis as its 43rd Governor. Previously, Polis served the state in Congress for ten years before setting his sights on succeeding Governor John Hickenlooper. Governor Polis’ election victory and subsequent inauguration may be heralded for its historic milestone: the country’s first openly gay Governor. While unquestionably a momentous movement for LGBTQ representation in the country, Polis is much more than this sole milestone. Many people are also curious how the new governor, who has been predominantly pro-cannabis in the past, will influence cannabis policy in the state. Let’s take a closer look.
A Brief History of Jared Polis
Prior to politics, Polis was a successful entrepreneur before even graduating. His ventures included providing internet access, greeting cards and flowers – all which were acquired for sizable sums. While growing his income, Polis would also give back to the community through various philanthropic efforts.
During his tenure in Congress as a Representative for Colorado's 2nd district, Polis’ passion for hot button issues was on full display. This includes introducing the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013, which would have regulated cannabis like alcohol.
Marijuana was far from the only concern for the Congressman. In 2013, Polis created a moment on the House floor by passionately defending people in the House gallery, many who faced deportation, defying the presiding officer during an immigration bill debate.
Polis would continue making waves. In 2015, the Congressman defended Colorado's sovereignty, namely its cannabis laws, when Louisiana Senator John Fleming made remarks about Louisiana that Polis found to be demeaning to the state. At one point in his rebuke, Polis sent a searing mix of humor and anger at Rep. Fleming for his state's fondness for crayfish. Polis said, "Want me to ban [crayfish[ and send federal troops down there? I'll bet smoking crayfish ain't good for you. I don't know. What if it's fried? It might clog your arteries, huh? Bet that's not good for you. Want me to send federal troops down there?"
In 2017, Polis joined Earl Blumenauer, Dana Rohrbacher and Don Young in creating the bipartisan Cannabis Caucus. When discussing the caucus, Polis told Westword "To think that we're at a day and age when the United States Congress can get a briefing on marijuana business 101, or marijuana and veterans and healthy living...it really shows how far we've come."
While on the campaign trail for Governor, Polis continued to stand for cannabis laws. That includes a condemnation of then-Governor Hickenlooper's veto of three bills. In a statement, Polis said, "I hope to see these thoughtful, bipartisan bills to help Coloradans with autism and grow our economy reintroduced in the next legislative session." Polis vowed to sign the bills if passed this session.
Cannabis Helps Polis Win in 2018
In June, the New York Times detailed Colorado's rise in single issue cannabis voters. The cover image they used was of then-candidate Polis discussing hemp research in a grow house with the CEO of FrontRange Biosciences in Lafayette, Colorado.
Efforts on the campaign trail and the years before did not go unnoticed by powerful cannabis advocates. In spring of 2018, Polis secured an influential endorsement from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)'s PAC. In a statement, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said, "During his tenure in Congress, Jared Polis has been the preeminent champion for ending our nation’s failed federal prohibition on marijuana and an unrelenting force in standing up for Colorado’s legalization and medical marijuana laws."
Polis' campaign showed a commitment to cannabis by targeting industry professionals with custom texts and mailers on marijuana issues. Other efforts included voter registration drives at dispensaries and hiring an outreach director who solely focused on cannabis. As the Colorado Sun explained, "All of it dovetailed with Polis’ unwavering support for legalized cannabis at the state and federal level."
Colorado’s Cannabis Market Under Polis
In January, Governor Polis laid out his ambitious plans for Colorado in his first State of the State address. Aside from cannabis, the Governor has set his sights on lower health care costs, full-day kindergarten, parental leave, renewable energy and tax reform.
Concerning marijuana, many expect more cannabis legislation to be introduced during this session. During the previous session, Colorado saw twenty cannabis-related regulations go into effect. Some of the more pressing issues that are expected to be discussed in 2019 include:
2019 Colorado Cannabis Legislation Possibilities:
- Expanded Medical Qualifying Conditions: Hickenlooper's veto to allow the addition of autism did not sit well with Gov. Polis. It is expected to be re-introduced in 2019. Other expanded conditions could include acute pain and opioid-related conditions.
- Social Cannabis Consumption: Another Hickenlooper veto focused on dispensaries having tasting-room permits. This, as well as a law concerning cannabis hospitality and social pot use, are all anticipated this year.
- Licensed Cannabis Delivery: After failing to pass in the Senate last year, delivery could be brought up once again. Its inclusion of recreational use is still uncertain.
- Publicly-traded Investment: Hickenlooper's third veto halted public companies investing in Colorado's licensed cannabis businesses. Now, with Polis in power, his call for the bill to be re-introduced makes it likely that the measure will go up again this session.
- Medical and Recreational Regulation Merger: Though some are concerned this move would eliminate the state's medical market, others contend that it advances the market by mirroring parallel industries.
With Governor Polis at the helm, Colorado may see its laws and market advance in ways the past Governor did not want to allow. Anything could happen. However, with Polis’ track record, cannabis is just one facet of life in Colorado that could prosper in the years to come.
What are your thoughts on Colorado’s new pro-cannabis Governor? Share them in the comments below!