State Representative Yadira Caraveo shook up Colorado's cannabis industry earlier this month with her early proposal for a bill restricting marijuana potency. During a town hall meeting on February 8, she shared some of her concerns about commercial pot and discussed the likelihood that she'd actually introduce legislation proposing a cap on THC content in pot products.
Westword had recently obtained the draft of a Caraveo bill proposing a ban on any commercial marijuana products in Colorado, medical or recreational, that test over 15 percent THC. The proposal also called for a number of restrictions to the state's medical marijuana program, including a requirement that medical marijuana patients only be allowed to purchase a pre-designated dosage and allotment of certain products as decided by a physician, similar to a drug prescription.
The measure hadn't been officially introduced in the Colorado Legislature — lawmakers are set to reconvene for the 2021 session on February 16 — but that draft quickly drew heat from marijuana-industry representatives and MMJ patient activists. And while Caraveo's town-hall appearance — part of an hour-long session with fellow state representative Kyle Mullica and Senator Leroy Garcia — focused largely on Colorado health care and COVID-19 response efforts, she addressed the issue of her potency proposal at the end.
Caraveo, who is a pediatrician, explained that the bill is "still in the nascent phases," and said that she will be meeting with marijuana industry stakeholders to discuss any proposed potency limits before the measure is introduced. Any bill would be designed to prevent youth marijuana use, she added, specifically the number of children consuming concentrated marijuana products. And while she said the draft would probably change before it makes its way to her House colleagues, Caraveo reiterated her belief that a potency cap is necessary to protect Colorado children.
"In many instances, they're getting their hands on products they should really not be getting their hands on," she said. "I'm not talking about the flower or edibles. I'm talking about products such as dabbing and wax that are produced, a lot times, with butane or other carcinogens that are very, very concentrated."
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, overall marijuana use among youth has remained flat since recreational dispensaries opened in 2014, but the use of high-potency marijuana products rose significantly among teenagers from 2017 to 2019, and has more than doubled since 2015.
Caraveo said that she is "okay with" legalization and doesn't believe marijuana should be criminalized, but then took aim at the rise in potency of marijuana products. Her numbers were a bit off, however; Caraveo claimed that the THC content in marijuana flower was around 5 percent when Colorado legalized marijuana and now tests "upwards of 50 to 60 percent." While the potency of marijuana has vastly increased over the past several decades, legal pot was testing well over 20 percent THC in 2012 when Colorado voters approved recreational legalization, and the highest-testing strains today don't surpass 40 percent.
Although Caraveo's early draft included a potency cap on medical marijuana products and called for a ban on the sale of medical marijuana suppositories, flavored vaporizer products, inhalers and other products, she now said the measure "is not going to touch the access that people, and children in particular, have to medical marijuana products."
Marijuana-industry representatives have been steadfast in their objection to the draft bill and the prospect of a potency cap; they're expected to meet with Caraveo this week to discuss the matter. Marijuana Industry Group Executive Director Truman Bradley, who says that this is the first time Caraveo's office has reached out to the industry, labels the measure a "Trojan horse" aimed at bringing down commercial marijuana. According to Bradley, at least half of Colorado's marijuana industry would shutter under a restrictive potency cap.
"Potency caps have been the tool of choice for prohibitions since adult-use cannabis became legal. I'm not surprised this is happening. It's one thing for prohibitionists to say it, but it's another thing for a lawmaker to start talking about it," he says.
Bradley and his peers in the industry argue that a potency cap would lead to a resurgence in black-market marijuana sales, as Caraveo's draft also proposed banning marijuana concentrates made with butane or solvent-based extract methods. "This rolls out a red carpet for the illicit market, and that's what no one wants to see. Is it completely gone? No, but it's way better than it was ten years ago," Bradley says, warning of a potential rise in illegal marijuana extraction at home, which could result in explosions in residential areas.
Governor Jared Polis hasn't commented on Caraveo's proposal, but he supported commercial marijuana as a U.S. congressman and now as governor, and his administration is said to be unhappy with Caraveo's draft bill.
According to Bradley, industry representatives are talking to at least one Colorado lawmaker about a counter- measure bill that would fund studies on the impacts of potent marijuana consumption. They would likely be based on recommendations from a 2020 CDPHE report on monitoring health concerns connected to marijuana use.