On May 26, a far-reaching marijuana bill calling for research into high-potency cannabis and more restrictions has advanced in the Colorado House, and Jeff Hunt, a longtime pot critic who serves as director of the Centennial Institute, the think tank and advocacy arm of Colorado Christian University, couldn't be happier.
"We've been praying for this for five or six years," says Hunt, who once argued that Denver's 4/20 rally should be outlawed. "I think you've got to believe in God at this point."
The 2021 session brought new challenges, as seen in a measure drafted by Representative Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat from Adams County. A leaked version of her "Safe & Healthy Marijuana Use" proposal called for a ban on "any form of legal marijuana, recreational or medical, testing over 15 percent THC," as well as "a number of restrictions to the state's medical marijuana program, including a requirement that medical marijuana patients only be allowed to purchase a pre-designated dosage and allotment of certain products decided by a physician, similar to a drug prescription."
That proposal was never introduced. But along with House Speaker Alec Garnett, Caraveo is among the sponsors of House Bill 21-1317, "Regulating Marijuana Concentrates," which is moving along in the Colorado Legislature. According to its summary: "The bill requires the Colorado School of Public Health to do a systematic review of the scientific research related to the physical and mental health effects of high-potency THC marijuana and concentrates. The bill creates a scientific review council to review the report and make recommendations to the general assembly. Based on the research and findings, the Colorado School of Public Health shall produce a public education campaign for the general public, to be approved by the council, regarding the effect of high-potency THC marijuana on the developing brain and mental health."
In addition, the bill imposes a series of requirements on medical marijuana patients between the ages of eighteen and twenty, including diagnoses of "a debilitating or disabling medical condition" by at least two physicians during "an in-person consultation"; mandates that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment "create a report from emergency room and hospital discharge data of patients who presented with conditions or a diagnosis that reflect marijuana use"; and "requires the coroner in each case of a suicide, overdose death or accidental death to order a toxicology screen" that would reveal marijuana usage.
Hunt doesn't see these measures as demonizing the substance.
"What we care most about is data and education and information," he says. "So the fact that we're going to actually do some research on high-potency pot, and actually understand what it does, is wonderful. And so is the fact that we're going to understand more about marijuana and suicide and deaths, and that coroners are going to be involved. We're going to finally understand what these drugs do. In pharmaceutical commercials, companies have to lay out everything that could happen to you if you take this drug, but with marijuana, we've had none of that."
He also views the reports required by the proposal as a way to vet claims about marijuana's alleged benefits. "I've debated NFL football players who've said marijuana cures CTE — traumatic brain injuries," Hunt says.
"And we've heard claims that marijuana cures Alzheimer's Disease, cancer, all these different things, even though there's no evidence it does anything like that. If there was, I'd be celebrating in the streets."
Should such evidence emerge, Hunt insists that the Centennial Institute would adjust its messaging — and he also stresses that he's not calling for pot prohibition under any circumstances. "As conservatives, we understand that trying to legislate out what people want to freely do is very, very difficult," Hunt explains. "We don't believe in government overreach and restrictions. We believe in the importance of self-regulation and self-control. So if people want to use it, I'd rather live in a society where they're fully aware of the effects of it, instead of everything being driven by putting profits ahead of the science."
Hunt likens Denver to tobacco-producing states in the 1930s and 1940s, "when the industry dominated lawmakers, because there was so much money to be made. So I really want to thank Representative Garnett and Representative Caraveo and senators Chris Hansen and Paul Lundeen for their leadership. It feels like we're finally getting this right — balancing out the industry with the needs of Colorado families. It makes you believe there's a God, and that God answers prayers."
House Bill 21-1317 passed on a voice vote before the full House on May 26. If it wins approval in a recorded roll call, it will then head to the Senate. Click to read it.
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.