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Justice with Jessica: Cannabis delivery drivers hope new bill can save businesses

Cannabis delivery drivers hope new bill can save businesses
Posted at 8:50 AM, Apr 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-14 17:27:56-04

DENVER — A bill created to promote social equity in Colorado's cannabis industry is making its way through the state legislature, and its facing major pushback from some dispensaries.

In a March 27 House Finance Committee hearing on HB23-1020, lobbyists expressed concerns that it's too costly for them to work with social equity delivery drivers.

Delivery drivers, on the other hand, said the bill has some key elements that could help keep their business alive.

"I wanted to do it really for my kids to bring new opportunities," said Michael Diaz-Rivera, owner of Better Days Cannabis Delivery.

Diaz-Rivera, who was born and raised in the Denver metro, opened his business about two years ago.

He learned that he had the unique opportunity to be a cannabis delivery driver because he qualified under a social equity program.

“I got a felony for weed possession at the age of 19," said Diaz-Rivera. "Just being a homeless teen trying to survive.”

Diaz-Rivera quit his job teaching 5th graders and dedicated himself to his new business.

So far, he has partnered with two dispensaries and spends his days delivering cannabis to customers.

Diaz-Rivera said he has learned that even though he's in business now, barriers still exist.

"We've seen a lot of these established businesses just refuse to partner with us," he said. "And that's just not helpful for those of us that are already marginalized. And we've put our all into this. And they're just waiting for us to fail so that they can come in and do their own thing when we're trying to collaborate."

He's hoping HB23-1020 will change that.

One of its most contentious provisions would create "an independent delivery license for social equity licensees that allows for purchase of marijuana and marijuana products for sale and delivery to consumers" rather than customers having to purchase only through dispensaries.

Lobbyists critical of the bill spoke out on March 27.

Click here to see which dispensaries support, oppose, or want to amend the bill.

Justice with Jessica: Cannabis delivery drivers hope new bill can save businesses

One of their concerns was about the lack of state financial investment in social equity licensees.

"I would like to see, and I know my client would like to see, more investment from the state into social equity," said Jason Hopfer of JLH Consulting.

Others expressed concerns about competition from the delivery drivers.

"If it’s actually successful, then it’s gonna drive the price down much further, right? Further eroding main street. Hurting the brick and mortars and maybe no one cares about the businesses. I’m not sure. Disruption sounds good, but what disruption means is lost jobs," said Truman Bradley of Marijuana Industry Group.

Rep. Naquetta Ricks, D-Arapahoe County, the prime sponsor of the bill, said its necessary to give social equity licensees a fighting chance at success.

"Three years ago, in fact, Colorado has taken $2.4 billion in revenues from marijuana and not much has been given to social equity here in Colorado," said Rep. Ricks. "So it seems like the timing is never right, and we have to make an opportunity for these social equity businesses so that they can succeed and grow wealth for their families."

Meachelle Brazell, who has teamed with Diaz-Rivera to deliver cannabis, said the lobbyists' arguments have prevented social-equity licensees from getting a return on their investments.

"For me, it cost me about $35,000 (in permits) just with the state alone," said Brazell. "That's not including the city and counties and whatever they're doing."

Diaz-Rivera said the bill is necessary because dispensaries have been reluctant to partner with social equity delivery drivers.

"They have to trust us with their business, with our brand," Diaz-Rivera. "And it takes time to build those relationships to make it work."

As the bill continues to battle its way through the legislature, Diaz-Rivera hopes to see at least one thing come out of it.

"Based on what I've seen in these last two years, there's opportunity for all of us to win if we work together. And for those big companies that are against this bill, I'm just hoping that they'll come to the table with solutions on how we can all work together," he said.

The bill is currently in the House Appropriations Committee, awaiting a second reading in the House.

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