Rep. James Coleman

Rep. James Coleman, a Democrat from Denver, talks about his social equity bill for marijuana industry at a press conference with Gov. Jared Polis and other bill sponsors at a Denver dispensary on Monday, June 29, 2020. 

Gov. Jared Polis visited a Denver pot shop Monday night to sign a bill that will help more Coloradans, particularly women and people of color, get in the business and become a success.

House Bill 1424 creates a social equity license that allows someone who might not otherwise qualify for a business license by working with a mentor, an established business willing to be a partner and adviser.

The license could extend to hospitality and delivery businesses that support the maturing industry, as well as cultivation and retail. Importantly, it allows the governor to pardon pre-legalization possession offenses involving amounts of up to 2 ounces, an offense that can currently cost an applicant a marijuana license but hurt them in other aspects of life, Polis said Monday night.

"We hope this legislation will be a first step toward new opportunities for thousands of Coloradans, who should not be living with a cloud over their head because they were a little bit ahead of their time," he said.

The licensee also could qualify for financial aid and other incentives from the state’s Department of Revenue or the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The Denver Department of Excise and Licenses released a report this month that found nearly 75% of the city's marijuana business owners are white, while 12.7% identify as Latino, 5.6% as black and 2.8% Middle Eastern.

Two years ago, a Department of Revenue analysis found that statewide 70% of owners were white. Women had just 32% of "key" marijuana licenses and a little over 36% of all occupational licenses.

"For two long the consequences of not have equity across too many areas of society, cannabis being one, are simply too severe," Polis said Monday night.

The bill was sponsored by Reps. James Coleman of Denver and Jonathan Singer from Longmont, with Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver, all Democrats, with Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins. 

"For decades now the Black community has been disproportionate criminalized, because of marijuana, while others have profited," Coleman said. "We've needed to act on this injustice and disparity for decades, and there are people standing here who have been speaking, acting, advocating and pushing for this very moment for decades. This is the first of many actions that must be taken to have racial equity in our state, and I'm so humbled by being a part of making this step happen." 

The bill signing was held at the Highlands neighborhood's Simply Pure Dispensary, owned and operated by Wanda James, a high-profile CEO in the predominantly white, predominantly male business. She is believed to be the nation's first Black dispensary owner.

“Social Equity is about righting the wrongs of the drug war and giving diversity a strong foot hold in the developing industry,” said James, who was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Cannabis by High Times magazine in 2018 and listed among Cannabis Business Executive's 50 Most Important Women in the Cannabis Industry in 2016. "We all know the drug war unfairly targeted people and communities of color, leaving families and people stuck in the criminal justice system for decades

“We legalized a plant and too many people of color were unable to participate in this new market opportunity. We were fortunate to participate in the industry before it evolved into a billion-dollar industry. But too many people who look like me were not given a fair opportunity to participate due to the prohibitive policies that target people of color many states, including Colorado, embraced early. I’m honored to help pave a path forward so more black and brown entrepreneurs can have a future in the industry.”

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