by Lisa Cyriacks
The first general legislative session for Colorado began January 13, 2010.  In addition to the regular business including taxes, budgets, and regulatory oversight, this current session faces some interesting lawmaking.
Renewable energy
HB 1001, sponsored by Rep. Max Tyler, D-Golden, would increase by 50 percent the amount of renewable energy that Xcel and other commercial utility companies must generate in the next decade.  The bill received final approval from the state House of Representatives with a 37-27 margin, with 36 Democrats and Rep. Kathleen Curry, unaffiliated-Gunnison, voting for it and all 27 Republicans voting against it.
HB 1001 would be the crowning achievement of Gov. Bill Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” before he leaves office early next year. The bill would not apply to municipally owned utilities that serve 40,000 customers or fewer.
Republicans and business leaders have argued that the cost burden of the more expensive energy source is too great, especially during an economic downturn.  They also argue that a provision in the legislation that mandates minimum certification for anyone installing solar panels is nothing more than payback to unions that will keep independent contractors from getting work.
During debate on the House floor, Republicans tried to remove the clause on certification, require the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to report on how energy costs are affected by the bill, and mandate an audit on whether the bill reduces emissions. All of those proposed amendments were killed.
Democrats, meanwhile, noted that the bill would put Colorado second only to California for the minimum percentage of renewable energy that must be generated by utility companies in the state. This could help draw more renewable-energy companies to the state, leading to more high paying jobs for Coloradans.
Clean energy, climate change, and national security
Late January veterans hit the State Capitol’s west steps, educating citizens and lawmakers on the connection between climate change and national security. The Veterans for American Power National Tour, sponsored by Operation Free, stopped in Denver as part of a two-month national bus tour where veterans, most of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, discussed America’s dependence on foreign oil, its eventual funding of terrorist organizations and its responsibility for destabilizing climate change.
Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, a Navy veteran, joined the event. Discussed was the need for domestic sources of clean energy so energy policy will not enter into the discussion when deciding whether to go to war. The representatives also spoke about the economic benefits of green jobs, which can’t be outsourced, and the importance of greater American energy independence.
“There is great synergy between what we’re doing under the dome and what these veterans are doing out on the road,” said Shaffer.
Medical marijuana
Senate Bill 109 sponsored by Chris Romer (D-Denver) sets out stringent rules for the doctor-patient relationship, communities could ban medical marijuana shops outright, and the ones that survive would have to reorganize as nonprofit corporations subject to stricter licensing and regulations. SB 109 passed by a vote of 34-1 and heads to the House this week.
Another House bill drafted in teamwork by Romer and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, incorporates the Senate bill and adds pages of regulations governing dispensaries.
Patient advocates criticize the bills for not taking into consideration the wants and needs of the patients. Advocates also say that the bill goes too far clamping down on a growing business that has seen the number of card-carrying medical marijuana users grow by the tens of thousands in the last year while the number of retail dispensaries across the state has kept pace.
Law enforcement officials would rather have a bill that does away with storefront suppliers entirely. Attorney General John Suthers on Thursday roundly rejected the dispensary framework proposed by Romer and Massey citing that it goes beyond the parameters established in Amendment 20.
Romer blamed the two sides for why he scrapped sweeping medical marijuana legislation regulating everything from commercial growers to dispensary businesses.
A recent bust in Highlands Ranch by the DEA of a commercial grower highlights the necessity to clearly define the intent behind Colorado’s Constitutional Amendment 20 passed in 2000. With the release of a Department of Justice memo stating the feds’ intent not to raid dispensaries that were operating legally in states that allow it, there has been an upsurge in patients registering for medical marijuana licenses. As many as 75,000 Coloradans could hold cards certifying their right to use medical marijuana by the time any new legislation takes effect, according to state health officials.
Under the House bill, a newly created Medical Marijuana Licensing Authority would be established and would be required to deny licenses to doctors, minors, anyone owing back taxes or delinquent in student loans or child support, and applicants with felony convictions. The licensing authority would also have to deny applications if it “determines the licenses already granted for the particular locality are adequate for the reasonable needs of the community,” which could radically thin the number of dispensaries in some neighborhoods of Denver and Boulder.
The bill would also ban consumption of marijuana at centers and restrict inventory to 3,000 pot plants and 1,000 ounces of the drug. Centers would also have to grow their own supply but would be able to exchange up to 10 percent of their inventory with other licensed centers.
The bill also incorporates a requirement approved in the Senate bill that patients age 18-21 get referrals from two doctors before qualifying for a medical marijuana card.
The House bill departs from the earlier draft known as “law enforcement bill” that would have eliminated retail dispensaries altogether by restricting medical marijuana providers to five patients apiece. That arrangement—specified in the state constitution—will remain a way for patients and caregivers to organize themselves, but the Massey-Romer bill also establishes a framework for larger retail operations serving hundreds of patients.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana activist Brian Vicente has announced plans to launch a ballot initiative aimed at establishing “sensible” regulations for dispensaries. In order to make the November ballot, Vicente’s organization, Sensible Colorado Action, would have to gather roughly 75,000 signatures by July.