This story by Moe Clark appeared on Colorado Newsline on July 29, 2021

A new office within Colorado’s Business Support and Rural Prosperity division will focus on all things cannabis.

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade announced on Wednesday the launch of the Cannabis Business Office, which was established through legislation that was signed into law this year. The office is funded by the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.

“This office will offer tools like technical help and improve access to money for businesses,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a written statement. “Where the federal government has fallen behind, Colorado will lead.”

The office will provide loans to social equity licensees for seed capital and ongoing business expenses; offer grants to social equity licensees to support innovation and job creation; and support cannabis business owners with technical assistance, according to the program website.

“The Cannabis Business Office will provide novel and ambitious programming to provide more equitable opportunity in the cannabis industry,” said Tristan Watkins, a cannabis researcher who will manage the state’s program.

According to the program’s website, social equity will be made a priority when issuing marijuana licenses. Applicants that qualify for a social equity license must fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Have resided for at least 15 years between 1980 and 2010 in a census-designated “disproportionate impacted area”
  • Applicant or applicant’s parent, legal guardian, sibling, spouse, child, or minor in their guardianship was arrested for a marijuana offense, convicted of a marijuana offense, or was subject to civil asset forfeiture related to a marijuana investigation
  • Household income in a year prior to application did not exceed 50% of the state median income as measured by the number of people who reside in the applicant’s household

Colorado’s Department of Public Safety published a lengthy report on July 21 outlining the impact marijuana legalization has had on Colorado’s economy and criminal justice system. The report found that in June 2020, 2,709 licensed marijuana businesses were registered in Colorado, 60% of which are concentrated in Denver (994), El Paso (292), and Pueblo (276) counties.

The report also found that the total revenue from taxes, licenses, and fees related to the marijuana industry increased from $67 million in 2014 to $387 million in 2020 — a more than 473% increase, according to the report. The amount of taxes transferred to the school capital construction fund and public school fund increased 264%, from $33 million in 2015 up to $120 million in 2020, according to the report.

A less positive finding was how wide racial disparities remain among people arrested for marijuana-related charges, the majority of which are for possession.

According to the report, which is required by law every two years, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by 68% between 2012 and 2019, from 13,225 to 4,290. The number of marijuana arrests decreased by 72% for white people, 63% for Black people and 55% for Hispanic people.

The analysis found that the marijuana arrest rate for Black people (160 per 100,000) was more than double that of white people (76 per 100,000) in 2019. The report noted that the disparity has not changed in any meaningful way since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012.

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