Lessons from Colorado. What I saw and didn’t see in the “Wild West of Weed.”

MarijuanaThe word of the day, of the year, in Colorado, is COMPLIANCE.

One might think the state of Pennsylvania would appreciate this, as the state operates “PA Wine & Spirits”, or “State Stores” as they are commonly called.

In Colorado, the state does not actually sell marijuana, but they do regulate the stores that sell, and it’s pretty impressive how they have really taken into consideration all aspects of retail marijuana.
Retail outlets are clean, discreet dispensaries with licensed employees.

This no Cheech and Chong version of legal weed. (Not that I have anything against Cheech and Chong. They seem harmless enough to me). This is serious business for both the state and retailers. These licenses are far too hard to get to lose it over non-compliance.

Underage sales are virtually impossible to make as each store has at least two points of checking ID.

In terms of service, PA Wine & Spirits could learn a thing or two from the legal cannabis business model. Dispensaries are staffed by individual ‘bud tenders’ to assist the customer in finding the strains that best suit their individual needs.

Two other key elements are clear, easy to read labeling and safe packaging. The legal marijuana business is as straight forward as any regulated business I can think of, with plenty of safeguards in place.

One of the big concerns about legal marijuana has been eliminating any chance of children getting their hands on cannabis. This is why dispensaries are required to provide child proof bags to ensure children don’t accidentally become exposed.

Marijuana MUST be in a child proof package before leaving the store. The paper and plastic bags associated with liquor stores don’t come close to this kind of responsible packaging.

There is no window shopping, either.

For example, in Denver, one must cannot just go in and wander around dispensaries. The stores have websites where potential customers can do their window shopping prior to their visit to the store.

Originally, the medicinal licensing required vertical integration – a dispensary had to grow its own. That requirement was recently eliminated, but the successful dispensaries are in control of their own inventory. They want to make certain people are getting the strains that work best for their individual medical conditions– another reason stores have licensed, knowledgeable employees.

Colorado is even more serious about growing marijuana. Grow operations face inspections and often have armed security, and they have real time video monitoring with a feed to the Marijuana Enforcement Division. Yes, Colorado has a division of government much like our own Liquor Control Board, or LCB, to regulate marijuana growing and sales.

This is frustrating for those of us still on the front lines of the fight for legalization.

In Pennsylvania, state officials in opposition act as if they have to invent the wheel when it comes to a common sense, responsible and effective system of retail compliance. Yet, here is an excellent working model where all the legwork has already been done.

Licensing, safety, and taxation are all in place. It’s simply a case of taking the Colorado business model and tailoring it to meet the needs of the citizens of Pennsylvania. Not just the needs of those who wish to indulge, but also those citizens who have legitimate concerns about the issue. It’s a fair approach that can work here.

Pennsylvania is a state where polling suggests a majority of citizens– especially in and around urban areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia– support legalization in some form. By adopting a common sense, well regulated approach like that in Colorado, we can provide the medicine people need and the recreational use people want, while effectively addressing the needs and concerns of all of the citizens of our state.

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