Drug-endangered child bill goes way too far


The Colorado legislature is wrestling with several cannabis-related issues this session.

Testimony was expected this week on Rep. Jonathan Singer’s House Bill 1364, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of debilitating medical conditions for the purposes of the use of medical marijuana. Another bill sponsored by Sen. Frank McNulty that would establish equivalency between plant and concentrate cannabis moved out of committee, and another that would set limits for concentrated forms of hash oil and increase a ban on certain edibles that look like other foods or candies is expected to face debate.

On April 14, a legislative budget committee decided not to move ahead on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plans to spend cannabis taxes on drug education and outreach. The governor had proposed spending $54 million on prevention and programs, but with only two months of revenue totals and uncertainty about how much revenue actually will be generated, the committee decided to shelve the discussion until more relevant information is available. Good idea.

On the other hand, Senate Bill 177 and SB 178 were passed 4-1 Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now go to the full Senate. The bills, which were originally introduced last session, concern creating a definition of a “drugendangered child” with respect to child abuse or neglect.

Never mind that there are already laws that define child abuse and neglect as resulting from any substance or situation. And sometimes forgotten in the current bombardment of hype about its dangers is the fact that millions of adult Americans, many who are raising children, live normal lives like anyone else and use cannabis.

The statute’s definition is a little less vague than the original, which defined a drug-endangered child as one “whose health or welfare is endangered or threatened as a result of the use, possession, distribution or manufacture, or the attempted use, possession, distribution or manufacture of a controlled substance as that term is defined in the federal Controlled Substances Act.”

On Monday, the committee allowed a language change from Sen. Mike Johnston: “Nothing in this part shall prohibit the use, possession, cultivation, distribution, or manufacture of a controlled substance that is permitted by Colorado law that that is used, possessed, cultivated, distributed, or manufactured in accordance with Colorado law, in a situation that does not pose a threat of injury to a child’s life or health.”

That change came after a public hearing April 9 when the committee room in the Senate Judiciary overflowed with parents who use cannabis responsibly, medical patients with children, veterans on serious medication wanting alternatives and people with children being treated with cannabis. Michael Bowman and a rancher cultivating the Charlotte’s Web strain parents with epileptic children around the country are moving to Colorado to obtain was at the hearing to talk about his work.

Even with the changes, there are still problems, particularly the use of the criminal-justice system over the public-health system in dealing with family issues, especially with lawenforcement lobbyists behind the legislation. And the collateral consequence of having a child protective services record, or worse, a criminal record, just because you use cannabis, is ridiculous.

“There was a lot of effort from the sponsors to carve out marijuana, especially medical marijuana, and I do think it’s a good try to make a bad bill better,” says Laura Pegram of the Drug Policy Alliance, who fought for the cannabis exclusion. Sen. Linda Newell, a member of the committee, tried to clarify that the bill is really aimed at parental prescription drug abuse and not cannabis.

“But from my perspective, it could be devastating for other people,” says Pegram. “What if you’re a parent who’s struggling with pill addiction or heroin and want help but who still is a good parent? It’s always good to remember that 82 percent of people who use drugs do so responsibly.”

Pegram worries that drugs now can now be linked directly to child abuse and that bringing in law enforcement intrudes on the doctor/ patient privilege. “And though the sponsors say it’s not written that way, I think it will create a larger barrier for parents,” Pegram, a social worker, says. “It’s a slippery slope. The laws are drafted to be very broad. By citing drugs, which carry their own special kind of stigma, we’ll be setting families up for social services and police to be involved.”

The bills could reach the floor as early as this week.

Ever since I began writing this column last year, I’ve been looking for a good book that chronicles cannabis’ use — and misuse — over the centuries and across all cultures and continents. Martin Booth’s Cannabis: A History (St. Martin’s Press 2003) fills that gap nicely. Booth captures mankind’s on-again, off-again fascination with a plant that both intrigues and frightens us.

It gets especially good after the plant makes its way into the U.S. in the early 20th century, and tells in detail the sad story of a government basically trying to keep people from feeling the psychotropic effects of a plant and in effect creating one of the largest underground economies of all time. If the story weren’t so sad and expensive, it would be hilarious.

“Cannabis is without doubt the most widely distributed hallucinogenic plant on the planet. Since prehistory, it has been in partnership with mankind, to become one of the most varied of variegated crops, its dispersal not only reliant upon the natural forces of wind and water, bird and animal, but also those of men,” Booth writes. “The lines of its global dissemination follow those of human trade and cultural history. And yet, unlike many other cultivated plants, it has never become dependent on man, has always been ready to escape his control and, as potheads would say, go off to do its own thing.”

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