Bill Offering MMJ Alternative to Opioid Prescriptions Passes House

Medical marijuana advocates could score a huge win if a bill allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana in lieu of opioid medications passes the Colorado Legislature.

State lawmakers go home for the year at the end of the week, but Senate Bill 13 is just a few steps away from making it to the governor's desk after passing its third reading in the House this morning. The bill was approved by the Senate in February, but had been laid over as legislators wrestled with details relating to the length of medical marijuana recommendations for conditions that require opioids.

Colorado medical marijuana cards are good for a year, but many conditions that require opioids are finite, lasting just weeks or months instead of years. Lawmakers had already amended another bill that addresses a slew of expiring medical marijuana laws to allow doctors to write medical marijuana recommendations with limited lengths, similar to opioid prescriptions; that measure is still under consideration.

Last year Representatives Kim Ransom and Edie Hooton, House sponsors of SB 13, pushed a bill that would have qualified acute pain, a common condition for which opioids are prescribed, for medical marijuana treatment. That measure wasn't as expansive, only qualifying acute pain and no other conditions, and didn't make it nearly as far.

"[The opioid epidemic] affects all ages, all income levels, all areas of the state. We were trying to give doctors an additional option," Ransom explained on the House floor before the bill went to a second vote on April 29. Several studies have shown decreasing opioid deaths in states with MMJ, and also demonstrated a lower rate of cannabis addiction compared to addictions to opioids.

But some addiction and pain-management professionals feel those results aren't concrete enough, and still view medical marijuana as a potential gateway substance.

click to enlarge State representatives Kim Ranson (left) and Edie Hooton speak about their bill in front of the Colorado House on April 29. - THE COLORADO CHANNEL
State representatives Kim Ranson (left) and Edie Hooton speak about their bill in front of the Colorado House on April 29.
The Colorado Channel
At the second hearing, Representative Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat and physician, objected to the inclusion of children. As written, the measure would require a child's diagnosing or primary physician and MMJ-recommending physician to be two different doctors, with the MMJ physician required to review diagnosis records. Amendment 20, the voter-approved measure that legalized medical marijuana in the state constitution, doesn't include such requirements, but recent laws qualifying autism and post-traumatic stress disorder for medical marijuana treatment have the same new restrictions for child patients.

"I think that the fact that we are taking this to an acute condition broadens this much too much. We would be able to have children who are otherwise healthy have recommendations for medical marijuana for things like a broken bone, a dental procedure, a surgery for appendicitis — a whole lot of things," she said on the House floor before the second vote. "Because of the fact that this includes children, I will be a 'no.'"

The bill's supporters were concerned about Republican no votes, too. "Given the last-second defeat last year and some House members currently hesitating to provide an alternative to opioids, we need to once again voice our support to ensure a successful final floor vote," warned Art Way, Colorado regional director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement released April 29, as SB 13 moved to its third and final reading in the House. "And based on today’s feedback during a second reading on the House floor, we know that Republican support is needed to bring this bill over the finish line."

Ultimately, SB 13 got that support in the House, where it passed on its third reading this morning. Now the measure goes back to the Senate, which will need to approve changes made by the House, before it moves to
Governor Jared Polis.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect SB 13 passing out of the Colorado House on April 30.