The governor of Colorado on Thursday signed an executive order to provide broad professional licensing protections for workers who use marijuana in compliance with state law. The move also prevents state agencies from assisting in any out-of-state investigations related to lawful cannabis conduct that could result in employment penalties.
Gov. Jared Polis (D), a longtime legalization supporter, issued the directive in the interest of protecting “the individual freedom and rights of Coloradans,” a press release says.
“The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our State,” Polis said. “No one who lawfully consumes, possesses, cultivates or processes marijuana pursuant to Colorado law should be subject to professional sanctions or denied a professional license in Colorado.”
“This includes individuals who consume, possess, cultivate or process marijuana in another state in a manner that would be legal under Colorado law,” he said.
The executive order is two-pronged.
First, it directs the Colorado Department of Revenue (DOR) and Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), as well as its cannabis division, to promulgate rules to ensure that nobody is “subject to disciplinary action against a professional license or disqualified from professional licensure for any civil or criminal judgment, discipline, or other sanction threatened or imposed under the laws of another state regarding consumption, possession, cultivation or processing of marijuana.”
In other words, having a conviction for low-level marijuana possession in a prohibitionist state couldn’t be used against a person seeking a professional license in Colorado, for example. That would cover licenses to work in a wide range of industries, including cannabis, gambling, legal services and education.
Second, the order says that Colorado state agencies cannot “provide information or data, or expend time, money, facilities, property, equipment, personnel or other resources to assist or further any investigation or proceeding initiated in or by another state that seeks to impose sanctions upon a person’s professional license for the lawful consumption, possession, cultivation or processing of marijuana in Colorado.”
There is an exception for cooperation in cannabis-related employment investigations that are ordered by a court.
It’s not immediately clear if this executive order is responsive to a common problem in Colorado as it concerns professional licensing policy, but Polis said that the policy is especially necessary to avoid deterring qualified individuals from pursuing work in the state and to address workforce shortages.
Earlier this year, a Colorado House committee defeated a bill that was originally meant to provide protections for workers who use marijuana off the job and allow medical cannabis patients to use their medicine at work—even after significantly scaling the legislation back to remove those protections altogether.
As noted in the governor’s press release, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize cannabis for adult-use, and the industry now boasts more than 40,000 jobs in the state. The recreational marijuana market has also generated more than $2 billion in tax revenue since shops opened in 2014.
Cannabis sales have generally trended upward in the years since, though they started to lag in 2022 following a peak in 2020. In March, the state saw $162 million in marijuana purchases.
Polis has committed to improving upon the state’s cannabis law, including through executive actions. The governor has been routinely providing relief to thousands of people with prior marijuana convictions through the pardon process.
Meanwhile, despite prohibitionist arguments that legalization would lead more young people to use cannabis, the state’s biennial survey that was released in June found that adolescent marijuana use in Colorado declined significantly in 2021.
Polis also signed a bill in June to align state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use. Also that month, he enacted legislation that provides a regulatory framework for the legal sale of kratom, a plant that advocates say can serve as a safer alternative to opioids and also help treat symptoms of addiction withdrawal.
Colorado voters will potentially see one or two measures on the ballot this November to legalize psychedelics.