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Stricter regulations on Colorado THC concentrates could be coming with proposed legislation

Lawmakers push for more research on high potency products
Colorado THC concentrates could be subject to stricter regulations if bill is passed
Posted at 2:43 AM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 07:45:01-04

SOUTHERN COLORADO — A bill introduced in Colorado's state legislature could enact new regulations on THC concentrates for both medical patients and recreational consumers.

HB21-1317 will go to the Committee on Finance on Thursday, after passing unanimously out of the Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee this week.

In a draft of the bill that was circulated earlier this year, a 15% potency cap on THC products was proposed. Since then, the bill has been dramatically revised. A potency cap is no longer included.

One of the prime sponsors of the bill, Representative Yadira Caraveo, explained the various goals of the legislation. She called it a reasonable bill that sets the state up for dedicated research on high potency THC products. "We're really trying to limit how much is out there overall, because it's getting into the wrong hands," said Representative Caraveo.

The bill aims to create a program through the Colorado School of Public Health to conduct a meta-analysis of worldwide research already available on concentrates. Representative Caraveo said the researchers would identify any gaps in information and report it to a committee. Then, what's been learned would be presented to legislators in June 2022, to determine if more research needs to be done or if conclusions can be drawn from the present data.

Representative Caraveo said leaders in the cannabis industry argued there was not enough research to support a THC potency cap. If the bill is passed, Representative Caraveo said she wants those with the Colorado School of Public Health to study limiting the amount of THC in products.

Lawmakers want to create a Scientific Review Council, which would lead a public awareness campaign on the dangers of consuming too much, stop advertising aimed at youth, and review studies to make recommendations on future restrictions.

The bill also hopes to strengthen relationships between patients and doctors, particularly for people between 18 and 20 years old. That age range would have to get a recommendation for medical marijuana from two different doctors, and the physician will have to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding the product's use. A regular follow up appointment would be required. "With a lot of tenets of the bill we're really trying to focus it on those who are most vulnerable. So children, and those with still developing brains between 18 and 25," said Representative Caraveo, who is also a pediatrician.

Representative Caraveo said the bill would not impact medical marijuana for children up to 17 years of age, especially those who have already obtained their medical cards. She said the bill was amended on Tuesday to ensure patients do not have to go through the entire process again and lose access to their medicine when they turn 18. Patients under 17 years old already need two different doctor's recommendations before receiving their medical card.

The proposed legislation would set a daily limit of eight grams of concentrate a day for both medical patients and recreational consumers ages 21 and older. For people between the ages of 18 and 20, the limit would be two grams a day.

A new tracking system would monitor cannabis sales throughout the state. The goal is to stop people who go from one dispensary to another, so they can purchase more than their daily limit.

Representative Caraveo said a doctor can recommend more than the two or eight gram limit for a patient. If a patient cannot reach a dispensary often enough, then the doctor can write into the recommendation that the patient can pick up more than the limit at a time.

The bill would change the way concentrates are sold at dispensaries. A one gram quantity of THC concentrate, also called dabs, would be split into 10 different doses. Representative Caraveo said the reasoning behind that facet of the bill is to help avoid naivete in users.

Legislators backing the bill want to require coroners across the state to perform toxicology reports on any suicide or non-natural death of people under the age of 25. Representative Caraveo said marijuana is the most common substance found in toxicology reports when it comes to suicides.

A toxicology screen is completed for every case that passes through the El Paso County Coroner's Office. The Chief Medical Examiner and Coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, said those tests cost money. The financial aspect to the toxicology screens will be an issue for many coroners, according to Dr. Kelly.

The bill can still be amended. The Colorado State Legislature is set to adjourn on June 12.

Laura Stack is from Colorado Springs, but now lives in Highlands Ranch. Her son, Johnny, died by suicide at the age of 19 on November 20, 2019. She described her son as a great young man, with a bright future ahead of him.

Stack said she didn't know her son had a medical marijuana card until after he died. She said her son's mental health deteriorated while using THC concentrates. "He texted me and said I've been dabbing for two weeks nonstop, and I feel like killing myself... Had he not been here in Colorado at 14 years old when these concentrates first came out in 2014, 2015, when he was starting high school, I think he would still be here with us," said Stack.

Stack started Johnny's Ambassadors, a nonprofit dedicated to educating teens and parents on the risks of high potency THC products. She supports the bill, and hopes it becomes law.

On the other side of the bill is Lauren Schoepp and her son, Cael. Cael began using cannabis around three years ago, when he was going through palliative care and starting to lose lung function. He lives with epilepsy, as well as autism. Lauren said the cannabis was used as pain management at first, but then dramatically improved her son's quality of life. "This overhaul in legislation is going to get rid of my son's legal right and legal access to his medication," said Schoepp.

Schoepp said it can be difficult to get doctor's recommendations for medical marijuana. "My son has eleven specialists, and only two will even allow us to talk to them about it," said Schoepp.

Vibrant Health Clinic is a medical cannabis specialty clinic in Colorado Springs. They complete doctor's evaluations for the product, and are concerned about the effects of this bill on their cancer, epilepsy, and pain patients who use concentrates. Those with the clinic also said the requirement to divide a gram of dabs into ten doses could increase the cost. "In a way I wonder if this might dismantle the medical program long term... It feels like the state wants adult patients to go back to recreational sales," said Jessica Hogan of Vibrant Health Clinic.

As the bill stands now, Hogan opposes it because she said there are too many unintended consequences. For example, she wants more clarity on the portion requiring mental health records for people to get a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana. Hogan asked if that is referencing existing mental health records, or if every patient will need to get analyzed.

Vibrant Health Clinic already requires past medical records for any clients under the age of 30, and for anyone with PTSD no matter their age. Hogan said there are some portions of the bill she appreciates, like it shining light on clinics that do not go to such lengths. "I think we can find a balance here, so that we're not ruining what's helping the patients that are responsible," said Hogan.

Even though Hogan said some clinics make the recommendations for a medical card too easy, she also said many doctors have their hands tied when it comes to cannabis. Hogan said that's because cannabis is still federally illegal, and it's against some medical group's policies to recommend marijuana. She also said doctors at Vibrant Health Clinic have special malpractice insurance, since they only conduct cannabis evaluations. "It is legal for the doctors to write the recommendations, but they won't do it. And that's very important for the legislators to understand the reality of this issue... I think it still needs a lot more work, and I don't think we should be rushing this, because it's going to affect thousands of patients who are using this legitimately," said Hogan.

The Executive Director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, Jason Warf, considers a few of the points in the bill unconstitutional. He said the bill restricts patient access to cannabis. "In our opinion, just another way to try and get rid of medical, which sadly is the agenda of some folks," said Warf.

Warf opposes the bill, saying it could also hurt the concentrate business. "It's pretty obvious it will push folks right back into the black market."

Draft of bill aims to curb underage use of concentrated THC, set potency cap in Colorado