A Guide to Colorado Marijuana Laws [Updated 2021]

Colorado marijuana laws
iStock / AndrewSoundarajan

In 2012, Colorado became one of the first two states in the country to legalize personal-use cannabis. Here is everything you need to know about Colorado’s weed laws.

Covid-19 Updates

In response to Covid-19, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order temporarily allowing consumers to make online cannabis purchases. As of March 20, customers can order their cannabis online and pick it up curbside. The executive order also temporarily suspended the requirement that patients see a physician in person in order to receive their medical marijuana cards. First-time medical marijuana patients and those looking to renew their registration can do so by seeing a physician remotely.

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Possession and Purchasing Limits

According to Colorado’s cannabis laws, weed is legally available for purchase, sale, possession, and use by adults aged 21 and older. The only legal place to purchase weed is from a licensed cannabis retail store. You’ll need to present a valid government-issued ID proving your age to make a purchase.

Adults 21 and over are authorized to possess up to one ounce of cannabis on them at a time. Legally aged adults are also permitted to give up to one ounce of cannabis away, but selling pot (including homegrown marijuana) is prohibited without the proper licensure.

Can Employers Drug Test for Cannabis in Colorado?

Cannabis may be legal state-wide, but Colorado’s cannabis laws give employers discretion to make decisions based on their employees’ cannabis use. Though unreasonable, it’s perfectly legal for an employer to ask you to take a drug test and then terminate your employment if the results come back positive.

Consumption Rules

The public consumption of pot is illegal regardless of its form. Cannabis cannot be inhaled or ingested in any public place including the following:

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  • apartment and condominium common areas
  • restaurants, cafes, or bars
  • sidewalks
  • ski slopes
  • public parks
  • amusement parks
  • concert venues
  • federal land

Cannabis can be consumed on private property, but there may be some exceptions. Renters must follow their property owners’ lease agreements which are permitted to ban the consumption of marijuana.

The consumption of pot in a hospitality property such as a hotel, inn, or rental is only permitted if the property owners allow it. Property owners are authorized to ban the use of cannabis on their properties.

In early May 2019, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that would authorize the licensure of “marijuana hospitality establishments,” spaces where cannabis consumers can purchase and consume cannabis on site. Local ordinances can choose to ban these establishments or create additional rules. For example, Denver allows marijuana hospitality establishments, but prohibits indoor smoking. Consumers can vape or consume edibles, but they have to bring the product into the lounge themselves.

Transport and Delivery

Adults 21 and over may transport up to 1 ounce of cannabis in their vehicles if the following conditions are met:

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  • The cannabis product is locked away and in an unopened container. If the product seal is broken, you can be charged with a traffic offense.
  • If the product has been opened, it cannot be stored in the passenger/cabin area of the vehicle. It must be locked in the trunk.

In early May 2019, Colorado lawmakers passed legislation that would regulate cannabis delivery. Although the law has been in effect since January 2020, only a handful of licenses have actually been issued. Local ordinances have to approve delivery within their jurisdictions through a referendum or by the governing board’s vote before delivery businesses can apply for delivery licenses.

Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in Colorado. Although there is no roadside device for the detection of THC, Colorado law enforcement officers trained as drug recognition experts will make arrests based on observed impairment.

If a drug test detects 5 nanograms of active THC, you can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. If you refuse to take a blood test, you will be considered a high-risk driver. This status requires 2 years of mandatory ignition interlock and level two alcohol and therapy classes regardless of whether you are convicted of a crime or not. Even if using cannabis to medicate an illness, being impaired while driving can result in the following:

  • a charge of child abuse if a child is present in the vehicle
  • fail time
  • a $13,500+ fine
  • driver’s license suspension

Exporting Cannabis

According to Federal and state law, it is illegal to export or import cannabis from or to Colorado. Even if you are traveling to a state that has legalized cannabis, you are not authorized to take cannabis across state lines.

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If you are a Colorado resident, you must leave your cannabis at home if traveling out of the state. If you are visiting Colorado, you must either consume or safely discard of your cannabis product before arriving at the airport or crossing state lines to return home.

It is illegal to bring cannabis to an airport or federal land.

Personal Cultivation Rules

Colorado law authorizes residents aged 21 and older to grow up to 12 cannabis plants at home for personal use. Up to 3 of those plants may be flowering at a time. Counties and municipalities may have stricter limits.

Homegrown cannabis must be stored in a locked, separate space that is inaccessible by minors and obstructed from public view. It cannot be grown outside.

Up to one ounce of homegrown cannabis can be given away, but it cannot be sold.

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Medical Marijuana in Colorado

Although cannabis is legal for personal use, medical patients may still seek to participate in the medical program. The program allows patients to access more cannabis than the recreational law permits. Additionally, the age limits are less prohibitive. Adults aged 18 and over may participate, and pediatric patients may participate in the program if they and their primary guardian are Colorado residents.

Adult and pediatric patients with one of the following qualifying, debilitating medical conditions may be eligible to participate in the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Cachexia
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea
  • Severe pain
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Any condition for which a physician could prescribe an opioid

The condition must be diagnosed by a physician the patient has a bona fide patient-doctor relationship. The physician must verify the information presented on the physician certification component of the application.

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A patient or physician may file a petition with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s State Board of Health to add a debilitating medical condition to the current list.

Patients can apply for a medical marijuana card by mail or online. There is a non-refundable $25 application processing fee that must be paid each time an application is submitted.

Timeline

2000 – Colorado legalizes the limited use of cannabis for medical patients and their caregivers.

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2010 – Colorado enacts the Colorado Medical Marijuana Code, the regulatory framework facilitating the distribution of medical cannabis

2012 – Colorado becomes the first of 2 states in the world to legalize cannabis for personal use. Washington is the other state.

2019 – Colorado passes legislation that legalizes the regulation of cannabis delivery and public consumption facilities.

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2020 – Marijuana hospitality establishment and delivery rules go into effect.

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