Holly Kinnel straightens out the display case at the The Clinic, one of the largest marijuana retailers in Denver. (John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Colorado advances contingency plan to help recreational marijuana stores in case of a federal crackdown

Concerned about a potential crackdown from President Donald Trump’s administration, Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bill that would allow recreational pot to be reclassified as medical marijuana so that it could not be seized by federal authorities.

The legislation would allow a one-time transfer prompted by a change in law or a shift in federal enforcement policy and drew no debate as it won final approval in the state Senate on a 28-7 vote Wednesday.

The effort comes after the White House signaled a tougher stance against states like Colorado that legalized recreational marijuana consumption and tough words from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“If Jeff Sessions goes after anything, it’s recreational marijuana,” said state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Longmont Democrat and sponsor of a bill that he calls “the Sessions safeguard.”

Colorado’s strategy is one of the most direct responses to the new administration’s stance on weed, but other states where marijuana is legal are taking similar steps to protect their dispensaries and consumers.

Singer said Senate Bill 192 ” will hopefully be a model for other states to use.”

State Sen. Tim Neville, a Littleton Republican and bill sponsor, called Colorado’s move “an orderly transfer” that would protect marijuana business owners and help prevent recreational pot from filtering into the black market if Trump administration authorities move aggressively to enforce federal law.

If necessary, however, the move would cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue because recreational marijuana is taxed at a higher rate than medical.

A previous version of the bill included provisions to allow pot shops offer delivery services, but that part was eliminated after opposition mounted from law enforcement and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“The state’s probably not ready for it, or at least the governor isn’t ready,” Neville said of the delivery issue.

The measure next moves to the state House, where it is expected to easily win approval before heading to the governor’s desk by the session’s May 10 adjournment.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com