Industry stakeholders will get a chance to offer feedback on Colorado’s proposed new cannabis rules this summer during work groups organized by the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) and Department of Revenue.
“In Colorado, broad stakeholder engagement in the rulemaking process is a guiding principle for us, and that’s specifically collaborative rulemaking,” said Shannon Gray, communications specialist for the Department of Revenue.
As the state regulators of Colorado’s cannabis industry, the MED and Department of Revenue have several laws to put in place by Jan. 1, 2019, based on seven cannabis-related bills that passed during this year’s legislative session.
The work group process allows stakeholders to participate in focus groups leading up to the state’s formal rulemaking, with work groups discussing the proposed rules and providing public comment. The MED and Department of Commerce solicited requests to participate in the work groups earlier this year and announced the selected participants last month. Anyone attending the rulemaking sessions can also provide comment, even if they were not selected to be part of the work group, Gray said. “Even if an individual is not selected to participate in the working group, we always invite the public to attend those conversations and participate in the end during the period for public comment.”
“It’s really important to us that we get all the voices in the room because this is such an evolving industry,” Gray added. “We take all of those opinions into account when writing the final rules and submitting the proposed final rules to our state licensing authority. Hearing from public health officials, from local law enforcement, from the industry, from opponents of legalization, proponents of legalization, individuals, consumers, the general public, the patient community—just hearing from all those stakeholders helps us to mitigate unintended consequences of new rules, which is vitally important in such an evolving industry, and with Colorado being the pioneer in this industry to first having retail sales in the nation, we take that responsibility very seriously.”
The rulemaking process kicked off July 9 with a discussion of certain products that are prohibited in the state under the existing intended use rules. As of July 1, products like nasal sprays are no longer allowed to be sold in Colorado, and the July 9 work group discussion focused on whether these inhaled products, products for oral consumption and skin products should be subject for review and approval from a manufacturing standpoint, Gray said. If it can be determined that the manufacturing process and end products meet standards that are similar to FDA and Good Manufacturing Process standards, they may be re-released into the market next year.
“Public health and safety at the state level is always our priority,” Gray said. “This situation is no different.”
The next work group will be held on July 26 and will focus on water recycling, court appointee, vertical integration and centralized distribution permit bills, Gray said.
The following work group on Aug. 24 will tackle three additional bills on product sampling for managers at retail outlets, standards for testing facilities and funding for marijuana research, which is a specific research and development license for medical businesses. The research legislation will address how to handle the licensing and facility layout of a co-owned and co-located medical and retail licensee who also becomes licensed for research.
The final work group will be held on Sept. 7 and will be a catch-all, Gray said, discussing outdoor cultivation security requirements, updates to the state’s responsible vendor program and changes to Metrc (the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system), as well as other items that were not addressed in the first three sessions.
After the last work group, there will be a hearing in October where the proposed final rules are provided to the public for a comment period. The Department of Revenue’s executive director will then review the public comments and make a final decision on whether to sign off on the permanent rules that go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.
“I have been with him … and he truly reviews every single line of the public comment, and last year it was six three-inch binders,” Gray said. “It’s very important to him and to our department as a whole that everyone’s voice is heard in this process and taken into account with the final rules that are put into place.”
Colorado has held work groups every year since legalization. “This is something that we’ve done continuously and will continue to do into the future,” Gray said.
The state’s priorities are protecting public health and keeping cannabis out of the hands of children, criminals and other jurisdictions, she added, and it has the opportunity each year with each rulemaking session to continue refining and improving the regulations.
“We try to get it right every time, and again, that goes back to hearing from everyone and not leaving anybody out of the conversation,” Gray said. “It makes for a big room for sure, and a lot of lively conversation, but it’s the only way to do it in our minds.”
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