Concern about patient safety and medical marijuana unintentionally making its way into the hands of minors is what drove State Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, to introduce House Bill 1250. If passed, the bill would remove ingestible forms of medical marijuana from the list of products that may be legally dispensed in Colorado.
The bill, slated for a May 1 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, would create a ban on edible forms of marijuana, such as brownies, lollipops and beverages.
“What I’m getting complaints from is kids presenting in ERs with accidental ingestion, problems on school campuses with products,” Acree told Boulder Weekly. “I’m not talking about the pot necessarily, but baked goods, candy, gum, suckers — things that were not intended for kids but were intended for patients, packaging that implies things are candy bars or sodas that are ending up being accidentally ingested and putting kids in the ER.”
When asked who would be presenting the medical evidence concerning minors ending up in the ER, Acree said that hasn’t yet been determined. But the evidence is there, she says.
“I’ve never heard of anybody dying from it, so that’s not what I’m talking about,” she says. “I’m talking about kids that have never exhibited psychotic episodes that end up having reactions or young children who have reactions.”
Acree says she’s been talking with pharmacists, doctors and health departments about the issue.
Her other concern is patient safety.
“In terms of dosage, just in terms of quality control, we’re guessing,” she says. “There’s no other pharmaceutical that’s distributed this way, where they bake it ahead of time. You can take it home, you can crunch it up, and you can put it in whatever you want, but we kind of have a different set of standards for this therapeutic treatment than we do for others.”
Acree insists she’s not trying to force medical marijuana patients to smoke the drug.
“They don’t have to smoke it,” she says. “They can do just like other cancer patients that I work with who grind up things and put the powder in their drinks. I don’t have any problem with people baking their own stuff or making their own stuff, I’m just concerned with some of the unintended consequences and our ability to protect patients with quality control.”
The trick in establishing quality control is that no one really knows what’s safe, she says.
“It’s unlike any other pharmaceutical, where somebody has a big interest in it so the pharmaceutical companies actually spend millions to study it, do test studies,” she says. “We all know this stuff’s been around forever, but nobody’s studied it or reported it if they have.”
But the fact that marijuana has been used by human beings for so long is proof to Laura Kriho, spokeswoman for the Cannabis Therapy Institute that HB 1250 is not only unnecessary but also imposes unfairly on medical marijuana users.
“If her concern is diversion to the youth market, it seems to me it’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to ban it all together,” Kriho says. “Why not address the actual problem rather than creating other problems?”
Kriho says that dispensaries offer a variety of forms for consuming medical marijuana to accommodate people’s medical needs. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of smoking it. Others have problems with nausea. Having a range of ingestible methods for taking the drug makes it easier for patients.
She says there’s a reason why people don’t want to bake their own brownies.
“It’s the same reason people don’t grow their own [marijuana] at home,” she says. “They’re too sick to do it. It takes some effort to make a pot brownie, and most people don’t know how to do it. Others are too sick to do it.”
The flurry of laws about medical marijuana in Colorado are serving only to drive up the cost for patients as dispensaries change their policies to comply with an ever-changing legal landscape.
“It comes down to the fact that marijuana users are easy targets and second-class citizens,” Kriho says. “It gives people a feeling of authority and power to be able to stomp on them and put them back in their place as bad pot smokers and bad people. ‘Our drugs are better than your drug.’”
But Acree says she has no problem with patients who use medical marijuana.
“I grew up in the ’70s and ’60s, and I grew up in Arkansas,” she says. “This stuff isn’t new. It’s just becoming more utilized in the open. I realize there are people who agree with it and people who don’t. But from a policy perspective, this is a big issue because you’ve got to try to figure out where the lines are drawn, and we’ve never had to do that before. And the bottom line is the federal government has a different set of standards — it’s illegal.”
The state’s constitution doesn’t guarantee people anything but medical access to the drug, leaving the method of delivery and licensing up to state lawmakers.
“So we’re at the front of this huge industry, and I also am concerned that we’re going to have patients who are relying on people who are developing this big interest stream who may not have their best interests at heart,” she says. “How do we protect patients so they don’t get priced out of the very product they wanted access to and it doesn’t get mixed with things they don’t want?”