Proposed Marijuana Restrictions Pass House, Move to Colorado Senate

Jacqueline Collins
Cannabis has been a hot topic at the Colorado Legislature this session, and House Bill 1317 — which would make the state's MMJ program more restrictive and further regulate marijuana concentrates, among other things — passed its third reading in the House on May 27 and now moves to the Senate.

The bill, introduced by Speaker of the House Alec Garnett, is a reworked version of Representative Yadira Caraveo's leaked draft from earlier this year, which had originally proposed capping products at 15 percent THC. And HB 1317 has also been amended since its introduction, but some legislators remain concerned about its contents.

"I think this bill is well-intentioned to protect our kids; it's just not quite there yet. It was implied yesterday by several speakers that little has been done in terms of regulations for public safety around marijuana," said Representative Kevin Van Winkle during the bill's third reading; he later voted no.
Representative Leslie Herod spoke in support of the bill, but added that fear-based rhetoric around prohibition is ineffective and regressive. "We've been reminded in the past couple of months about the importance of the weight of our rhetoric," she said. "The War on Drugs was rooted in politics and fear. It is disheartening to hear the echoes of these politics ring through this chamber." She strongly suggested that any policy coming out of the legislation shouldn't be "weaponized in a criminal fashion."

The bill proposes further regulations based on reviews of medical marijuana applications, and would require prescriptions for MMJ, a tracking system for patient purchases, and new labeling for concentrates.

"Putting more regulation on a business, spending more money and possibly throwing more people in jail when we've done all this, it seems like we're going right down that path again," argued Representative Shane Sandridge before voting no on the bill. "I hope when this comes back from the Senate, this is something with substance that really deals with the issue at hand — because it needs to be addressed, and I think our constituents need and deserve a real move forward in this situation."

Some lawmakers think the bill isn't tough enough. Representative Richard Holthorf — a hemp farmer — spoke of his time in Afghanistan, and how drugs had ruined that country. "It burns our society like a corrosive acid," he warned. "I will vote yes today on this bill, but that corrosive acid will still burn in our society and country."

The proposal also calls for research into high-potency marijuana and teens. Evidence supports the need for these studies, said John Stack, whose son committed suicide in 2019 after heavy marijuana use; he cited his concern over the 270 medical marijuana cards issued to people eighteen and under, and another 3,900 to eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds. "There's nothing about criminalization," he added. This is about a study. It's about looking at the evidence we already have, filling knowledge gaps to get to a point where we can understand what the impact is on high-potency THC on the developing brains of Colorado's youth."

"I don't support further criminalization of marijuana," Garnett concluded before sending the bill to a vote. "This is the next step to protecting our kids and eliminating the gray market that has expanded on high school campuses."

HB 1317 passed out of the House by a 56-8 vote; it went to the Senate Finance Committee late on May 28 (listen to that meeting here). It will be heard by Senate Appropriations on June 1.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee hearings.