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Coronavirus fuels marijuana industry’s push for online sales, delivery in Colorado

Now under Colorado’s emergency rules, customers can pay for marijuana online and then pick up their purchase at the store.


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By Thomas Peipert, The Associated Press

Colorado has made online sales of recreational marijuana legal during the coronavirus pandemic, fulfilling one of the pot industry’s biggest wishes and fueling its argument for more concessions that could be made permanent when the crisis eases.

It’s one of several signs emerging from the virus outbreak of just how far ingrained marijuana has become in mainstream life in several states. Dispensaries are being designated “critical businesses” and are allowed to operate through statewide stay-at-home orders. Large markets such as California, Washington state and Oregon are allowing curbside pickup during the crisis.

Now under Colorado’s emergency rules, customers can pay for marijuana online and then pick up their purchase at the store.


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“We have an opportunity to prove that cannabis businesses can run these operations and do so effectively under extremely dire circumstances,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association.

Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois and Oregon also allow online recreational marijuana sales. But the practice nonetheless remains severely limited because credit card companies tend to shy away from dealing with a drug that is still illegal under U.S. law.

Fox said easing restrictions on dispensaries is a step, but he doubts credit card companies will embrace the marijuana industry unless lawmakers provide some cover by passing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which aims to protect financial institutions that serve cannabis-related businesses.

One example is Cannabis Station by Rocky Mountain High, a dispensary housed in an old filling station in downtown Denver. The dispensary has been providing curbside pickup after Gov. Jared Polis’ March 20 directive, but it hasn’t delved into online sales because it hasn’t found a credit card company willing to process the transactions.

The dispensary’s manager, Ben Prater, said he believes the state should allow deliveries during the crisis, as well. Home delivery of marijuana, which is already allowed in several states, was not covered by Polis’ order.

“We need to be able to have as little contact as possible to people. If people are sick or if they’re immunocompromised, they don’t need to be leaving their house during this time. So I think that delivery is just kind of a necessity at this point,” he said.

Colorado lawmakers last year legalized delivery but left it up to municipalities to decide if they want it. The state law allows for the delivery of medical marijuana this year and recreational cannabis in 2021.


In California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control endorsed a rule in January 2019 that allowed home marijuana deliveries statewide, even into communities that banned commercial pot sales. But even though the state has allowed broad legal marijuana sales since 2018, it remains unavailable in large areas where local governments have banned commercial activity or have not set up rules to allow sales.

“Delivery and access really need to be made available in every corner of the state,” especially during a pandemic, San Francisco-based cannabis attorney Nicole Howell said.

The coronavirus has provided the opportunity, however grim, to make that argument loud and clear — and not just in California.

Rachel Gillette, a Denver-based cannabis attorney and a board member of Colorado’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said she and the group have asked local elected officials to draft ordinances or resolutions to allow delivery of medical marijuana. But she acknowledged that could be difficult given the times.

“They may have a lot of other things on their plate than trying to figure out how to facilitate delivery for marijuana businesses,” she said, adding that allowing recreational pot delivery before next year would require legislative action.

The Colorado governor’s office said in an email there are no plans to allow businesses to apply for recreational marijuana delivery licenses before 2021, and online sales of recreational marijuana would not be allowed after the executive order expires.

The Marijuana Enforcement Division can’t authorize online recreational sales without a change in state law, but it will continue to evaluate whether the emergency rules should be amended, renewed or repealed, according to the governor’s office.

Under state law, emergency rules can only stay in effect for 120 days.

Associated Press writer Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Colorado has made online sales of recreational marijuana legal during the coronavirus pandemic, fulfilling one of the pot industry's biggest wishes and fueling its argument for more concessions that could be made permanent when the crisis eases.

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Colorado marijuana continues to be treated like the boogie man by media organizations around the country — and at least one law-enforcement group based here is happy to aid in that process.

For proof, look no further than a new report from ABC7 in Chicago headlined “MAILING MARIJUANA: OFFICIALS REPORT SPIKE IN POT-LADEN PACKAGES.”

The piece maintains that a large volume of cannabis is regularly sent through the U.S. mail to other states in violation of federal law, much of it from Colorado — with supporting information contributed by Tom Gorman of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Over the years, the Denver-based RMHIDTA has issued a series of sky-is-falling studies about the dangers of marijuana; the most recent one arrived in September. And while critics tend to dismiss the group’s data as unscientific, biased and agenda-driven, far-flung news organizations such as ABC7 Chicago frequently accept it at face value.

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The station reports that the U.S. Postal Service handles more than 155 billion pieces of mail per annum, with a billion-plus going through Chicago.

Of that total, just shy of 8,000 packages containing marijuana were seized in 2014; they cumulatively contained approximately 40,000 pounds of cannabis or cannabis-related products.

How many of them originated in Colorado? ABC7 doesn’t have those figures, but it does quote RMHIDTA info suggesting that “the amount of intercepted mail containing Colorado marijuana destined for other states has increased over 2,000 times from 2010-2014.”

Gorman also appears on camera to site a favorite theme of Smart Colorado, another group concerned about easy access to marijuana — the potency of our homegrown weed.

“Colorado marijuana is very desirable,” Gorman maintains.

As for the number of marijuana-laden packages from Colorado that aren’t being found by authorities, Gorman offers the roughest of rough estimates: “We’re only probably getting 10 percent or less, so 90 percent is going through,” he allows.

To reinforce this theme, ABC7 cites “several people who said they have sent marijuana in the mail from Colorado. They did not want to be identified, but said they have never been caught.”

Will this kind of rhetoric inspire more people to mail pot, despite the otherwise scary tone of the ABC 7 item? Perhaps not, given the mention of Ryan Bailey, an Illinois man sentenced to three years behind bars for arranging to have seven pounds of marijuana mailed to him from Colorado.

But we can certainly imagine some folks seeing a 90-percent-plus chance of success as representing pretty good odds.

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A new report out of Chicago raises an alarm about the amount of marijuana being sent through the mail, with a particular focus on Colorado — and a Colorado law-enforcement source. Learn more at