After hours of testimony on Wednesday, March 8, a Colorado House committee approved Senate Bill 17-17, which would make people suffering from PTSD and other stress disorders eligible for medical marijuana, in an 8-1 vote. It now moves on to a full vote of the House.
"We're in the final stretch, and the momentum has really kicked in," says Cindy Sovine-Miller, a lobbyist working with the Hoban Law Group to help shepherd the proposal through the Colorado Legislature. "There were two and a half hours of testimony of people who were opposed to this bill — testimony from very credible people. The testimony from the people who are actually impacted by this really won the day."
Much of that testimony focused on children, not adults with PTSD, she notes. A clause in the bill would allow underage patients access to medical marijuana, and that topic was hotly debated.
"The idea that people are going to be handing marijuana over to children is really not valid, and I think most of the testimony was getting people to understand that we're not talking about handing kids joints," she explains. "These kids are on patches or tinctures or oils that are designed to treat their condition, and we're not at all encouraging marijuana use by children."
Adam Foster, who serves as special counsel at Hoban Law Group, says that the bill focuses on a use of marijuana as medicine that doesn't fit the stereotypes of underage consumption.
"I really do understand the worry about trying to send the right message to teens and encouraging them to be responsible," he says, "but at least when I was a teen, the most uncool thing in the world would be having your cannabis administered by your parents."
And under this bill, parents would definitely administer MMJ: Minors would not be allowed into a dispensary, much less allowed to purchase cannabis. But if those minors qualify for cards, this bill would allow their parents to buy the medication and regulate its use.
Sovine-Miller, who does a lot of pro bono work for the medical marijuana community, points out that there are already safeguards for children in place and this bill wouldn't change that. But it would expand the opportunity for adult patients to use MMJ.
"I think it's time to give Colorado veterans and others suffering from PTSD access to medical marijuana," she says. "They deserve access to this medicine to treat the conditions they develop as a result of their service to their country."
Foster agrees that the testimony was very strong. "It was emotional at times," he says. "There are doctors who testified, especially folks who were worried about bad side effects on children and were passionate and emotional, and there were a couple different veterans who explained their experiences and what they've been through — combat veterans in tears testifying, so it was definitely an emotional scene.
"There are people who are absolutely suffering and have gotten relief from marijuana, and bringing them within the formal system to regulate medical marijuana and provide a safe system for them to access that is the right thing to do," Foster continues. "We think the lawmakers are open to that message, and they want to do right by the veterans and the other people with PTSD, so our goal is just to keep the momentum and steer the ship into the harbor."
If the full House approves the bill, it will return to the Senate, which will need to sign off on any amendments to the version state senators approved in early February.