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Dispute Over Felons In Pot Industry Flares At Statehouse

DENVER (AP) — A dispute over felons in the marijuana business has complicated a much larger bill to renew medical marijuana regulations in the closing days of Colorado's legislative session.

At issue is whether drug felons should be licensed to own or work in medical marijuana businesses after completing their sentences.

Drug felons are allowed to work in the recreational pot industry after five years with a clean record if the crimes for which they were convicted wouldn't be a crime under current marijuana law.

A bill to renew expiring medical marijuana regulations sought to establish the same standard for the medical pot industry.

One House Republican is vowing to fight the bill because it includes that change. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, successfully proposed an amendment to retain the felon ban.

"If we want to legitimize the industry, the last thing we want to do is put convicted felons in charge of running this industry," Klingenschmitt said Tuesday when House and Senate members met to hammer out differences on the bill.

RELATED STORIES: Marijuana Legalization Story Archive

Klingenschmitt was overruled by the other five negotiators — three Democrats and two Republicans. Supporters of the change pointed out that in some cases the felonies involved relatively small amounts of pot, and that the occupational licenses are frequently for low-level hourly work such as trimming marijuana plants or working a cash register at a medical pot shop.

"To prohibit them from working in this industry because of some moral judgment about their character I think is completely inappropriate," said state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. "This is really about old laws when small amounts of marijuana used to be a felony."

Klingenschmitt vowed to try defeating the entire bill when the measure returns to the House for another vote, expected Tuesday or Wednesday. He was unmoved by the argument that some of the felonies wouldn't be crimes today.

"It was a felony at the time they did that, they knew it was wrong they broke the law," Klingenschmitt said.

It wasn't clear how many people would be affected by the change.

Aside from the licensing of drug felons, the bill makes sweeping upgrades to how medical pot is regulated in Colorado. The state's medical pot rules were written two years before recreational pot was legalized, and many of those regulations are now outdated. For example, the original pot regulation encouraged potency testing but didn't require it, because the state lacked a system of labs to do such tests.

Other changes awaiting final action by lawmakers include removing the mandatory 7 p.m. closing time for pot shops, allowing regulators to set the times instead. The bill also establishes a new conflict-of-interest provision so state marijuana regulators can't work in the pot industry for at least six months after leaving their jobs.

Several more divisive items in the original bill — especially a crackdown on caregivers and allowing noncommercial pot growers to use pot-testing labs — have been peeled out and are pending before lawmakers in separate bills.

LINK: Senate Bill 115

By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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