Polis Mum on Controversial Marijuana Bill During Legislative Recap

Governor Jared Polis was noncommittal about his stance on House Bill 1317 during a press conference recapping the 2021 legislative session.
Governor Jared Polis was noncommittal about his stance on House Bill 1317 during a press conference recapping the 2021 legislative session. Gabrielle Bye
"Systemic, bold and long-lasting" is how Colorado Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg described the state legislative session this year at a press conference held by Governor Jared Polis and General Assembly majority leaders at the State Capitol Building June 10.

"Bold" is certainly one word for House Bill 1317, a successful bill that would add several layers of protocol to medical marijuana recommendations, including a required THC dosage amount, more medical and mental- health reviews, expanded tracking on patient purchases and extra doctor approval for patients under 21; all marijuana concentrate products, medical and recreational, would fall under new packaging or labeling rules created by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division under the bill, as well.

Although the measure is controversial among Coloradans, it garnered some of the most bipartisan support of any major legislation this session, passing the House with only seven "no" votes, and the Senate unanimously. The recreational pot industry's stance on the bill is largely neutral since amendments regarding concentrate packaging and future research of THC's effect on suicide and mental health were approved, but the majority of the state's medical marijuana community still strongly opposes the bill with concerns over restricted patient access, and has called on Polis to veto the bill.

When Polis was asked if he would sign HB 1317 at the press conference, he dodged a straightforward answer despite voicing support for other legislation that passed, such as that on infrastructure.

"We're not getting into, here, what we're signing and not signing. What I'm generally saying on every bill is something that we probably give you if you ask about a particular bill, and I'm paraphrasing it now. But we have an analysis presented to me on every bill: It's a legal analysis, a policy analysis and a fiscal analysis," he said. "We then make a decision accordingly, and certainly we'll notify you. It's certainly fair to say that the bills that we were supportive of during the process, we'd be expected to sign; but there's hundreds of bills, so certainly I look forward to evaluating those over the next few weeks."

State restrictions on concentrated THC products and medical marijuana purchasing amounts were pushed by lobbies representing parents and health-care representatives as Colorado health professionals declared a state of emergency in youth mental health and Colorado Department of Health and Environment data showed that the use of extracted marijuana products more than doubled among teenagers from 2015 to 2019. Another contentious bill drafted by Representative Yadira Caraveo, a certified physician, suggesting a cap on all marijuana product potency of 15 percent THC failed to be introduced, but HB 1317 got a lot further.

Proponents of HB 1317 argue that it's important to conduct research on a drug that is little-known in respect to areas of mental health, where research is mixed and inadequate. Republican Senator Kevin Priola, one of the sponsors of the bill, strongly supports the effort, saying that his own son deals with issues related to consistent use of extracted THC use.

Those opposed to the bill, like Representative Shane Sandridge, believe it could re-criminalize marijuana products back into the black market, which is ironic, considering the lengths to which lawmakers have gone in Colorado to expunge and pardon some minor, non-violent cannabis crimes.
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Gabrielle Bye, a former editorial fellow at Westword, writes about news, politics and food. In her spare time, she loves to enjoy nature and eat locally.
Contact: Gabrielle Bye