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

Supporters, opponents, share views regarding highly concentrated THC
Draft of bill aims to curb underage use of highly concentrated THC; would set a cannabis potency cap in Colorado
Posted at 2:41 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 14:13:07-05

SOUTHERN COLORADO — A bill that has not been finalized yet is already making waves throughout the cannabis community in Colorado. The proposed legislation, that is still being revised, aims to reduce underage use of highly concentrated THC products. As the language reads at the time of this writing, it would also cap THC potency at 15% for both medicinal and recreational marijuana products.

THC Concentrate
A highly concentrated THC product.

The bill

Representative Yadira Caraveo from Thornton is a sponsor of the bill. She is also a pediatrician, and said she has seen the effects of using high potency THC products through her patients. Representative Caraveo said it can lead to addiction or mental health issues. "I'd had a lot of parents and educators reach out to me, talking about these high potency products, and how they're seeing an increased use in kids leading to sometimes episodes of psychosis, long-term mental health issues, and other medical issues," said Representative Caraveo.

Here are the main points of the bill, according to Representative Caraveo:

  • Creating a medical marijuana monitoring program, to try and limit abuse, stop "looping," and form better doctor-patient relationships.
  • Data collection to track the effects of high potency THC.
  • Protecting public health through potency limits, and the prohibition of dangerous products used by underage youth.

She said this bill will try to address THC potency first and foremost. According to Representative Caraveo, 15% THC was selected as an initial figure because of data from other countries which shows anything greater than 15% can be concerning in terms of effects on the developing brain. "Most of the products that are out there right now are above 15%, including flower. And so, that's why it was a starting point in our conversation, and never something that we thought was actually going to be in the final version of the bill, whatever that is," said Representative Caraveo.

She said adolescents will find a way to try cannabis products regardless of rules, so the potency cap would be implemented to limit the danger of the products that could be available to those underage. "They're getting a hold of them somehow, and so we have to address that," said Representative Caraveo.

A version of the draft of the bill in question
This draft of the bill shows the potency cap would be set at 15% THC, but legislators say they don't believe that number would make the final version of the bill.

CLICK HERE to read the latest draft of the bill, which is still being revised.

Representative Caraveo said the bill hopes to improve upon doctor-patient relationships as they relate to medical marijuana. She said prescriptions for cannabis need to be conducted in the same fashion as any other prescription. This would also give a better idea of what dosage patients are using, according to Representative Caraveo.

If medical recommendations for marijuana are tracked, it could monitor how many times a prescription has been filled. Representative Caraveo said that would help stop "looping," which she defined as going from one dispensary to another, to find a way around the daily purchase limits set. "Shop to shop to shop. Getting a huge amount of these products, and then selling them. And, that's how they get into our high schools for the most part," said Representative Caraveo.

Finally, Representative Caraveo said she wants to improve data collection with this bill; specifically, when looking at the relationship between psychiatric disorders and THC. She mentioned wanting more information gathered from emergency room visits, or further investigation into THC presence during teen suicides. "Re-evaluate an industry, before we have further public health issues. As a physician, that's my role in anything that I do," said Representative Caraveo.

When asked why both medical and recreational cannabis were included in these first versions of the bill, Representative Caraveo said it's "because we know that medicinal is being looped in and ending up on a gray or black market, and so we do need to address how it is sold at the very least."

This bill has not been introduced yet. Representative Caraveo said it probably will not be finalized and introduced for a little while. She also said Vermont had a potency cap set at 60% for concentrates, and Washington is considering similar legislation.

However, Representative Caraveo said the discussion surrounding the subject of this bill has been happening for around a year. Legislators wanted to wait and see what a report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) found about THC concentrates. Representative Caraveo said the study gave them the support to push ahead with proposed legislation surrounding high potency products. "It really did back up the fact that this is an issue in Colorado, that it's not just anecdotal, that there is evidence about these concerns out there," said Representative Caraveo, referring to the CDPHE report.

CDPHE Report on THC Concentrates, 1
At the end of the report, it says there is an association between highly concentrated THC products and higher rates of psychiatric disorders.

For the full report from CDPHE, CLICK HERE. The information in this story comes specifically from the THC Concentrates in Colorado Report (2020).

On page 49, the report states the cannabis industry has been moving quicker than science, but there have not been many studies on THC concentrations and human health. CDPHE and the Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee "share concern about the health and safety of the consumption of highly concentrated THC products available in Colorado."

The report also states that high levels of THC are associated with psychiatric disorders. The state recommends more education surrounding THC concentration, research into the health effects of consuming products with high potency levels, and continuing surveillance. However, it still says there is not enough evidence related to THC concentrates available.

Specific to THC concentrate products, evidence is insufficient when examining the association to dependence and acute health effects. Our ability to make unbiased, evidence-based statements on the potential health effects of marijuana products containing high THC concentration is limited until further scientific research can be conducted and the evidence shared or published. Therefore, in the best interest of public health, we suggest funding research to answer these questions.
THC Concentration in Colorado Marijuana
CDPHE Report on THC Concentrates, 2
In conclusion, CDPHE writes "evidence is insufficient" concerning THC concentrates.

Representative Caraveo said she was not sure how, but the first version of this bill was leaked, which forced the stakeholder process to begin sooner than originally expected.

CLICK HERE to watch the first stakeholder meeting regarding this bill, which is still in the works. There will be more meetings in the future, but dates have not been selected at this time.

In the initial stakeholder meeting, a doctor expressed concerns about the ease of acquiring a medicinal marijuana card. There was a mother who lost her son to suicide and believes high potency THC played a role in that. Another speaker said cannabis is being blamed for problems created by society. The virtual meeting lasted for around two hours.

Patient perspective

The Canna-Patient Resource Connection has been around for six years, and in addition to focusing on patient outreach within the community, their other big goal is education. The connection helps teach parents from other states how to think of cannabis in a more therapeutic way.

The Co-Founder of the Canna-Patient Resource Connection, Bridget Seritt, felt a large chunk of stakeholders were left out of the first meeting in the process. "To add insult to injury, this bill absolutely shows that there is no concept from the medical community, because this was written by a pediatrician, on how we actually use cannabis therapeutically... The language in this bill shows a complete lack of understanding of what we have to deal with, and what we go through, and how we use it," said Seritt.

When News5 asked Representative Caraveo about allegedly leaving patients out of the stakeholder process, she said she was not given a proper chance to begin that stage of the proposed legislation, since the draft was leaked before her original timeline.

Seritt uses high potency cannabis to treat her autoimmune diseases. She asserted medical marijuana was included in the bill as a negotiating tactic, guessing it could be excluded from the bill down the road. However, she said the bill would still be problematic, even if it only applied to recreational cannabis. "We have about 85,000 patients on the registry. And tens of thousands more that are not [on the registry]... A lot of us, including myself, choose to be unregistered patients, and therefore we rely on the recreational supply," said Seritt, adding there can be consequences to being on the registry.

Seritt also said high THC concentration products are essential for those who use them as medicine, because it allows them to measure their dosing. "Forces us to purchase more cannabis to meet our dosing needs, but it also threatens to add fillers and things that we just don't want in our products," said Seritt.

Seritt added that she would like to help keep cannabis out of teenager's hands, but this bill is not the way to do it. Instead, Seritt suggested increased education toward adolescents regarding the substance. "15% THC cap does nothing to keep it out of the hands of children. It just keeps it out of our hands, and makes it a little further out of reach for us," said Seritt.

Jaelah Jerger and a chicken
Jaelah Jerger holds a chicken.

News5 first met Jaelah Jerger in January of 2020, when doing a story about children using CBD. Her mom, Lelah Jerger, said Jaelah takes both CBD and THC every day to control her seizures. "Jaelah's not having the hundreds of seizures a day that she was having. If we have one to two, less than five seizures a day, you know, that's a good day," explained Jerger.

Jerger and her family moved to Colorado to capitalize on the cannabis laws, and to give Jaelah a better quality of life. Jerger said she would be concerned about not being able to buy THC in high concentrations. "We're already spending hundreds of dollars on cannabis a month, and that's just to give our kids and adults a better quality of life. What quality of life are we going to have if we have to put even more money into buying something that helps so many people?" asked Jerger.

Jerger also had a message for the families who find themselves on the other side of this bill, who may have suffered losses of their own. "I feel so sorry for those families, and my heart does go out to them. But, they also need to have their heart open up a little bit more for our circumstances as well," said Jerger.

Jaelah Jerger turns five
Jaelah Jerger recently turned five years old.

In Pueblo, Jamie Kropp's son Kolt has taken THC for years to manage his autism. Kropp said within a week of starting her nonverbal son on cannabis, he was speaking. She now said he thrives in school.

Kolt Kropp uses THC for his autism
Jamie Kropp provided this picture of her son, Kolt, detailing the results of his THC usage.

Kolt takes anywhere between 1,000-1,200 milligrams of THC a day. Kropp said that dosage works well for his specific needs. "Dose him at 7 in the morning, he starts school at 7:15. Kolt doesn't have to take another dose until 4 p.m. because he can handle that large dose, and it carries him for eight hours a day. People do that with time released pharmaceuticals, why can't I do that with a plant?" asked Kropp.

Kropp also moved here in search of cannabis to help her son. His story played a part in the passage of the Colorado law adding autism to the list of disorders that authorize a person to use medical marijuana. Kropp believes she would see an instant regression in her son if he were to stop using concentrated THC products.

The proposed legislation makes her feel angry, dumbfounded, and frightened. She said if this bill were to pass and limit THC potency in products, she would continue making the product for her son, and become an unwilling criminal. She hopes it does not get to that point. "We'll fight with Colorado until they tell us we can't do it anymore," said Kropp.

Kolt Kropp and his family
Kolt Kropp uses THC to manage his autism.