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Denver to Allow for Foreign License Owners, State Hopes to Follow Suit

denver foreign license owners

For decades, Colorado has been one of the leaders of cannabis culture. And for good reason: Colorado has frequently been one step ahead of the rest when it comes to marijuana reform. But with recreational legalization came challenges legislators didn’t anticipate, one being out-of-state residents who have lived here before have been banned from engaging in any aspect of the industry.

Fortunately, Colorado passed Senate Bill 21-199, which will allow non-residents to become owners of cannabis businesses in the state. The law went into effect on July 1st of this year and removed barriers that prevented people from becoming business owners because they were not Colorado residents. Current cannabis law requires applicants for licenses to be state residents for at least two years before applying.

This law was put into place with the intention to limit market influence of large corporate cannabis companies; however, this requirement has had unintended consequences by making it more difficult for people who have been impacted by the war on drugs to access ownership within the industry which makes things less equitable overall. This bill removes discriminatory barriers that existed previously, and it provides greater equity within a burgeoning business sector while opening doors for more people overall!

Senate Bill 21-199

Senate Bill 21-199 was passed by the Colorado legislature and signed by Governor Jared Polis in March. The bill requires that applicants for cannabis licenses pass a background check, but it does not require them to be state residents.

Instead, SB 21-199 simply requires that applicants for cannabis licenses pass a background check and be state residents for at least two years. This point alone raises issues around residency terms and is almost tyrannical for budding entrepreneurs.

The bill was introduced in response to concerns about the potential for out-of-state ownership of marijuana businesses. In the past, cannabis licenses have been granted to people who do not actually reside in Colorado but instead live elsewhere and have family members or other people run businesses for them.

While SB 21-199 does not specifically state whether or not you must be a resident of Colorado to apply for a marijuana license, there is some debate over whether this requirement applies. Again, this should not be too great a cause for alarm since increasing access to cannabis in general and licensing specifically is almost always a net positive.

Easier And More Equitable For The People

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Tony Green, who owns a dispensary in Denver and serves as president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve worked in this industry for over 20 years, and I’ve seen so many people get locked up for selling marijuana or possessing marijuana. And now that it’s legal, they can’t participate because they have a record.”

According to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a nonprofit dedicated to ending the war on drugs and promoting drug policies based on science and human rights: “The criminalization of drugs has had an enormous impact on communities of color in New York City,” wrote DPA executive director Kassandra Frederique in The Nation back in February 2019.”They were arrested at much higher rates than whites for drug possession and sales; their sentences were often harsher than those handed down to white offenders; they were more likely to receive mandatory minimums for crack cocaine offenses;” wrote Frederique about how non-whites were targeted by law enforcement under drug laws during the 1980s crack epidemic period. And these disparities still exist today.”


As we continue to move towards full legalization and regulation of cannabis in Colorado, SB 21-199 is one step forward on the path toward justice. This bill will remove discriminatory barriers from an industry that has long been held back by institutional racism, classism, and other forms of oppression.

Then again, this might just be the same tired old story with a fresh coat of paint. After all, this could have been done sooner, and increasing access to cannabis in general (minus all the extra legal maneuvering) almost always leads to positive results.

Enjoyed that first hit? Come chill with us every week at the Friday Sesh for a freshly packed bowl of the week’s best cannabis news!

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