The Colorado House of Representatives approved a bill aimed at preventing minors from obtaining high-potency THC cannabis products, among other provisions to increase oversight of the state’s medical marijuana program, which marijuana reform advocates fear could restrict patient access.
The measure – HB21-1317 – easily cleared the House in a 56-8 vote. It now heads to the Senate where it’s widely expected to be approved.
The bill is the result of protracted negotiations and discussions over a period of several months among lawmakers and public health officials, spearheaded by the measure’s lead sponsor, House Speaker Alec Garnett.
One of the bill’s key provisions calls on the Colorado School of Public Health to analyze existing research and carry out new studies to better understand the “physical and mental health effects of high-potency THC marijuana and concentrates.”
Its findings are likely to inform THC restrictions and regulations in years to come.
New rules and regulations set to be introduced in the near term are as follows:
- To prevent “dispensary hopping,” whereby medical marijuana patients purchase more than their legal limit at multiple retailers in one day, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division will implement a statewide real-time tracking system.
- Purchase limits of medical marijuana concentrates will be set at 8 grams per day, while for those between the ages of 18 and 20, the limit will be 2 grams per day. This will be the case unless the patient has certification permitting greater quantities.
- Medical marijuana advertisements catering to minors will be prohibited.
- Other advertisements for medical and retail cannabis products must include a health warning as to the risks of marijuana concentrate overconsumption.
- Sales of cannabis products from medical and recreational retailers must be accompanied by a pamphlet detailing the risks of marijuana concentrate overconsumption.
- Prospective medical marijuana patients between the ages of 18 and 20 must have their condition assessed in-person by at least two physicians. The minor patient must return for follow-up visits with one of the physicians every six months.
- Physicians must assess a patient’s mental health history as part of a consultation concerning medical cannabis treatment, even where there are no pre-existing or underlying mental health concerns.
- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment must draw up a report on marijuana-related emergency rooms visits and hospital discharges.
- Coroners must carry out toxicology screenings to determine marijuana use in all cases of suicide, overdose and accidental death.
The bill also stipulates that medical and recreational cannabis retailers must, from January 1, 2023, sell cannabis concentrates in one gram packages where the product is divided into a minimum of 10 equal portions. Another of the measure’s more onerous provisions requires physicians to recommend a specific cannabis dosing regimen, which some argue could put doctors at greater risk of violating federal law.
Given the bill’s far-reaching implications for Colorado’s marijuana laws, opposition in the House and Senate appears lacking. Those few House members who argued against the bill said a statewide tracking system would result in discrimination and discourage uptake of medical cannabis treatment. NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf claims the bill is an attempt to undo cannabis legalization in Colorado.
“This bill is a cynical effort by prohibitionists to severely roll back a policy that has been in place for two decades and that a majority of state residents support,” Wolf said. “House Bill 1317 places additional and unreasonable hurdles upon recommending physicians as well as upon young adult patients and their families. Furthermore, some of the advocacy groups championing this measure are not acting in good faith – as they have publicly stated that their ultimate goal is to roll back legal access altogether, in Colorado and in other states.”
Ahead of the House vote, Garnett said the legislation isn’t about reintroducing cannabis prohibition but “making sure we all understand where this market has gone, how this (high-potency) market has expanded. … I just want to make sure that if there is an impact on the developing brain, then we have public health research.”