Bill Allowing MMJ Over Opioids Shelved Until Marijuana Laws Revamped

Medical marijuana could still become a state-approved alternative to opioid prescriptions, but we'll have to wait a little longer to find out. A bill that would have approved MMJ for conditions for which opioids are currently prescribed has been shelved while the Colorado Legislature awaits a discussion of the upcoming sunset on medical and recreational marijuana laws.

Senate Bill 13 had already passed the Senate when it reached the House Health & Insurance Committee on March 7, and it looked like it was on track for another voting victory...until the bill's sponsors recommended postponing the measure. Lawmakers cited concerns that while MMJ cards are usually valid for one year regardless of the qualifying condition, the opioid replacement would have been indefinite.

Colorado's marijuana laws were created with an expiration date at the end of 2019 so that after five years of commercial sales, lawmakers could evaluate legalization's effects and rewrite any outdated or undesirable regulations. During this sunset review, legislators are expected to propose a number of changes that could impact social consumption and the separation of medical and retail regulations, among other things. House committee members thought it would also work better to change the duration of an MMJ card — a move that could affect more patients than just those prescribed opioids — during the sunset review than with a specific bill, like SB 13.

"We realized with the sunset bill [coming up], we were making things harder than this had to be," explains  Representative Kim Ransom.

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State rep Edie Hooton, the other main sponsor of the bill, came armed with evidence and public testimony to support the effort anyway, handing out studies that showed decreasing opioid deaths in states with MMJ, as well as the lower rate of cannabis addiction compared to addictions to opioids. Over a dozen witnesses testified in favor of the bill, too, including representatives from the Drug Policy Alliance and Americans for Safe Access.

Not everyone was as supportive: The Colorado Society of Addiction Medicine opposed SB 13 because it was concerned about multi-substance drug abuse if a patient could be simultaneously prescribed opioids and MMJ for the same condition. However, MMJ patients and advocates at the hearing said that using both medications at smaller doses — whether as a treatment plan for their specific conditions or to ween themselves off opioids completely — was an important tool for patients, especially those suffering from chronic pain.

But many opioid patients are prescribed medication for acute pain, and that can be an indefinite condition. Since the minimum length of an MMJ card is currently one year in Colorado, Hooton and Ransom recommended postponing the bill until the sunset measure adds more flexibility to MMJ.

The sunset review is expected to come at some point in the summer, but no official date has yet been set.

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