Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday added his signature to the 2021 legislative session’s signature bill on marijuana, a bipartisan effort to study the effects of high-potency THC products on the developing brain and keep those products of the hands of teenagers.
At the bill signing ceremony at Boettcher Mansion, Polis praised the research and data-gathering components of House Bill 1317 from Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Sens. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. Hansen noted those elements "put Colorado in leadership position," particularly because the federal government has not taken on the responsibility with marijuana still classified, as a Schedule IV drug.
The research component of the bill will:
- send the Colorado School of Public Health $1 million per year for three years to conduct an analysis of existing research on the impact of high-potency THC marijuana and concentrates on physical and mental health, find gaps in that research and conduct studies to fill those gaps. The legislation also creates a scientific review council to review the findings in that analysis and make recommendations to lawmakers;
- direct the state Department of Public Health and Environment to compile a report on hospital and emergency room discharge data reflecting patients who display “conditions or diagnosis that reflect marijuana use;”
- direct coroners to order a toxicology screen to test for THC in non-natural deaths of those under 25 years old starting next year. The results of those screens would be required to be reported to CDPHE’s Colorado Violent Death Reporting System and the agency would be required to compile a report on those screens.
But the driving forces behind the legislations, according to sponsors and many of the proponents who testified on its behalf, were the elements seeking to prevent teenagers from abusing high-potency THC products like concentrates.
The main provision to accomplish that goal is an update of the Metrc seed-to-sale tracking system, which will require the system to be updated with information tying purchases to a medical patient’s identification number in real time, rather than at the end of each day.
That’s designed to prevent “looping,” when a patient buys up to their daily limit at one dispensary before heading to another to again buy up to their daily limit before the system updated. According to Garnett, looping by 18-year-old medical card holders is the main way high-potency THC products are making their way into the hands of underage students.
"This bill will close that loophole," he said. "This bill will make sure that we aren't creating a gray market on our high school campuses and that our high school kids, their developing brains aren't flooded with the most high potency products when they don't need them."
The bill will also:
- lower the purchase limit on concentrates for medical patients and recreational consumers to 8 grams per day, down from the 40-gram threshold adults are currently allowed to possess. For medical patients between ages 18 and 20, that limit drops to two grams per day; and
- require medical patients ages 18 to 20 to consult with two doctors who diagnose “a debilitating or disabling medical condition,” and schedule follow up appointments every six months before receiving their medical cards.
Polis’ signature puts a cap on one of the session’s landmark bills, one that has seen significant changes from the proposal circulated in the early days of the legislative session. A February draft of the policy, for example, included a 15% cap on THC in marijuana products.
While that element of the proposal was left on the scrap heap in this year's legislation, the research timeline as well as its potential findings leave the door open for more regulatory measures in the future.