A marijuana tracking bill that drew the ire of the pot industry died almost as quickly as it appeared in the Colorado General Assembly on Thursday, May 3. Introduced by Senator Kent Lambert late in the legislative session on April 27, SB 279 would have required a tracking agent on all medical and retail marijuana plants and products in Colorado, but it was voted down unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee. However, committee members seemed open to a similar proposal in the future.
Marijuana industry reps and advocates for medical marijuana patients testified against the bill during its first reading on May 3, voicing concerns that unknown additives might be applied to marijuana and also noting that text in the bill could create a potential monopoly for one company to make a specific type of tracking system that has yet to be developed by Colorado State University-Pueblo's Institute of Cannabis Research.
In February, the Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee voted down a similar bill introduced by Lambert. That proposal, SB 029, was also opposed by marijuana industry members, but it had three other sponsors: Senator Leroy Garcia and state representatives Dan Pabon and Yeulin Willett. Lambert, who says he wrote the bill to help track out-of-state marijuana diversion, couldn't get anyone to co-sponsor his second attempt, however, with Pabon indicating earlier this week that the language concerning the use of an additive in the proposed tracking technology would present challenges for the bill.
"The marijuana certification technology must include two components: an agent applied to marijuana plants or marijuana products and a device capable of scanning the agent. The agent must be applied to a marijuana plant or a marijuana product and then scanned by a device that at a minimum would indicate whether the medical or retail marijuana plant or medical marijuana-infused product or retail marijuana product was legally cultivated, manufactured, or sold. Any agents used as traceable identifiers must be safe for human consumption according to standards approved by the Department of Public Health and Environment," the bill reads.
During the May 3 hearing, Lambert said that he didn't have time to hold stakeholder meetings before introducing the bill just two weeks before the session's end, but added that he received some "sensitivity training" from marijuana attorney Christian Sederberg and met with lobbyist Cindy Sovine. The senator also attempted to strike some of the language that made the bill prescriptive in demanding certain types of technology while giving other businesses the right to produce the technology after CSU-Pueblo developed it.
That wasn't enough for Sovine, who officially opposed the bill at the committee meeting, as did the Marijuana Industry Group, the Cannabis Business Alliance, Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism and the CannAbility Foundation. CBA executive director Kevin Gallagher called the bill "rogue" and "belligerent" during the meeting, adding that no other state with legal marijuana uses such tracking measures, while also defending Colorado's current seed-to-sale tracking system, Metrc.
"What is this bill trying to solve? How is tracking an already-tracked-and-regulated product going to help law enforcement?" he asked. "Why should licensed tax dollars have to pay for this, when the bill has nothing to do with gray and black market enforcement?"
Gallagher also pointed out that the bill called for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to determine that the tracking agent was safe for human consumption — but the CDPHE is barred from clinical studies of marijuana because of its Schedule I status with the federal government, and currently is only allowed to perform observational studies, which don't allow researchers to control independent variables (in this case, marijuana). The committee, comprising senators Tim Neville, Jim Smallwood, Cheri Jahn, Rachel Zenzinger and Jack Tate, agreed with Gallagher.
"I am not typically involved in some of these issues. I'm coming into this after a lot of discussion with CSU-Pueblo," Gardner told his colleagues. "It's definitely not my intent to compromise the integrity of anything." The El Paso County senator said he believes the bill would've benefited the "privacy and profitability" of the pot industry in the long run, adding that his proposed legislation was more about protecting researchers at CSU-Pueblo from outside interference.
After agreeing that discussion of the bill started a "positive conversation" among marijuana stakeholders, Neville and other committee members indicated they'd be open to pursuing Lambert's goal in the future. But Neville also said he felt that Colorado laws allowing residents to grow their own marijuana plants could present a problem.
"I'm not supporting the bill today, although I think this is an important conversation," he explained to Lambert. "I understand that we want to reel in the black market, and that we want to innovate and encourage the legal market. We also have caregivers and people who grow at home, and that's another challenge and a huge wrinkle to this."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.