Colorado Legislature passes new medical marijuana restrictions

    BRIEF

    Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett speaks about proposed legislation to address youth access to high-potency cannabis products at the Colorado Capitol on May 18, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

    Proposed new restrictions on medical marijuana, aimed at reducing the use of high-potency products by young people, are on their way to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.

    The Senate overwhelmingly passed House Bill 21-1317 with amendments, and the House approved the Senate’s amendments on Tuesday — the final major step in the bill’s long journey before Polis could sign it into law.

    “We need to be concerned about this industry and how it might be interfering with the intellectual development of our kids,” Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “When you smoke cannabis or marijuana or all this other stuff that’s out there, there’s consequences associated with it, and we end up paying for it as taxpayers.”

    HB-1317 is led by House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, and Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a Thornton Democrat, along with Sens. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, and Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument. The bill grew out of bipartisan concerns about children’s use of high-potency marijuana products, also known as concentrates, such as shatter, wax and oil. Parents of children who depend on medical cannabis for conditions like epilepsy had initially worried it would create barriers to care.

    The final version of the legislation would require doctors recommending medical marijuana for 18-to-20-year-olds to do so through an in-person appointment. Doctors recommending marijuana for 18-to-20-year-olds would need to review patients’ mental health history along with their medical history, which is already required, before recommending the substance.

    Those provisions would not apply to people who already had a medical marijuana card prior to turning 18 — a change from the original version of HB-1317.

    The bill would require all physician authorizations for medical marijuana to include the maximum THC potency level, daily quantity and directions for use.

    Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, testified in a House committee hearing on HB-1317 about his son’s marijuana use disorder. He brought that up again during Senate debate Thursday.

    “For the past four and a half years, my wife and I have struggled to support our son without enabling him, to love him unconditionally but not promoting his illness,” Priola said. “It has stressed our family in many, many ways.”

    The Senate passed a last-minute change Thursday from Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Democrat from Lakewood.

    It directs a working group established by the Colorado Coroners Association to come up with a way — besides studying marijuana use in young people who died unexpectedly— to identify prescription medications and illegal substances with a “substantial potential for overdose and addiction.”

    The postmortem testing provision already in the bill prior to the amendment directs the working group to study methods to test for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the cannabis molecule that creates a “high.” This includes identifying the presence and quantity of THC in a person’s system, and how long ago a person consumed the THC.

    HB-1317 directs the Colorado coroner to complete toxicology screenings for THC and alcohol in deaths of most Coloradans younger than 25, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. Pettersen’s amendment adds scheduled drugs to that list as well.