Colorado Receives a C+ in Medical Marijuana Access

Medical marijuana carries lower prices and less taxes, but the cost to be a patient is going up.
Medical marijuana carries lower prices and less taxes, but the cost to be a patient is going up. Scott Lentz
Colorado received a grade of C+ in a national medical marijuana advocacy group's annual report for 2021, falling slightly from the year before.

Americans for Safe Access releases report cards every year analyzing each state's medical marijuana program. Despite having one of the country's oldest medical marijuana programs and over 86,000 registered patients at the end of 2021, Colorado's grade dropped from a B- in 2020.

The state's biggest setback in the latest report card was the implementation of House Bill 21-1317, which ASA government affairs director Abbey Roudebush calls the "single biggest rollback of a state medical cannabis program that we have ever seen."

An expansive law created to curb youth marijuana use of potent THC products, HB 1317 implemented new restrictions for medical marijuana patients and doctors. Physicians will have to provide a THC dosage amount with a patient's medical card, and patients are limited in their purchasing outside of those recommendations. The law also limits a medical marijuana doctor's diagnosing power, cuts down allowable medical marijuana concentrate purchasing amounts, mandates mental health reviews for prospective patients under the age of 21, and requires that all dispensary purchases made by patients be entered into a new state tracking system.

According to the ASA, this legislation has put the rights of Colorado's medical marijuana patients in danger because fewer physicians are willing to recommend medical marijuana, with several having already resigned or left the state.

“ASA is disturbed by the direction Colorado policymakers have chosen to take in amending cannabis laws,” the report states. “ASA recommends an emergency session be called to issue an immediate repeal of HB 1317 before it devastates the state’s patient population and creates a crisis of access.”

Colorado's grade only fell slightly since HB 1317's passage, however, and the overall grade still remains tied with or higher than the majority of the country. According to ASA's grading rubric, scoring isn't fully focused on shifts in legislation, with affordability, penalties and health and social equity all new grading categories this year. Patient rights and civil protection, accessibility, program functionality and consumer protection and product safety remained categories, as well.

Earning 460 out of 700 possible points, Colorado obtained a 70 percent or higher in the accessibility, health and social equity and consumer protection and product safety categories. However, Colorado earned a 50 percent score in the patient rights and civil protection category, falling twenty points since HB 1317 was implemented.

To increase Colorado’s overall grade next year, ASA advises policymakers to address, among other things, the risks to patients who lose their jobs or custody of their children, are denied housing or have to perform unfair roadside sobriety tests because of current marijuana DUID laws.

Only seven states — Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Utah — increased their overall scores from 2020 to 2021. Maine received the highest grade, a B, with Illinois (B-) the only other state to earn higher than a C grade. The two lowest scoring states were Idaho and Nebraska, which earned zero points for remaining under prohibition.
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