A hit and a miss for Colorado marijuana legislation

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Two important marijuana bills made it to the State Legislature this session, one passed and one failed.
Wikimedia Commons/ Greg O’Beirne

In the week leading up to the end of the Second Regular Session of the State Legislature, two major pieces of marijuana legislation met their fates.

In the first week of May, a proposal to certify organic marijuana at the state level was rejected in a Senate committee by a vote of 4-3, while Jack’s Law, a bill requiring Colorado schools to accommodate the use of non-smokeable medical marijuana by students, passed both the House and Senate.

These bills are small, but significant pieces of legislation. They were necessitated by conflicts between state and federal laws concerning the rights of cannabis patients and consumers.

The measure concerning organic certification for marijuana, HB16-1079, was introduced in the midst of a long line of recalls for marijuana grown with unapproved and potentially hazardous pesticides in an attempt to protect consumer rights and public health.

Because cannabis is federally illegal it cannot be certified by the existing U.S. Food and Drug Administration Organic program, but claims about organic, pesticide-free and naturally grown are common product nomenclature in the industry. It is illegal to use the term without FDA approval, but so far, neither the state nor federal government have intervened, although The Denver Post recently reported that might be changing.

The bill failed under concerns that a state-run organics program would signify the government’s endorsement of the substance as “healthy.”

These sentiments echo the hard lobbying efforts against the bill from anti-marijuana groups and the conventional agriculture industry — a combination that Representative Jonathan Singer from House District 11 remarks make “strange but effective bedfellows.”

“Unfortunately [the death of the bill] is going to mean that we will go another year without any sort of independent, verified organic designation,” says Singer, who is one of the bill’s two sponsors. “Consumers have a right to know what they are putting in their body and people won’t have access to that information.”

The second, piece of legislation, HB16-1373, requires school districts to adopt a policy permitting students with authorization to use medical marijuana at school. The bill quickly passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, passing the Senate unanimously with a rare standing vote as the chamber applauded those who came to testify in support of the measure.

The bill is named Jack’s Law after Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and dystonia, who worked with his mother last year to allow school districts to establish medical marijuana policy. When school districts hesitated with unfounded fears of putting their federal funding at risk, it became clear legislation was needed to get things moving.

The bill was carried by a conservative republican, Senator Chris Holbert, who did not support marijuana legalization. Jack came from his district and when Holbert heard his story, he adopted the issue wholeheartedly, arguing that cancer and seizures are not partisan issues, instead framing them as human issues.

“This is just a real case of people understanding that your right to an education should never be turned around for your right to medication and visa versa,” says Singer, who is also a sponsor on the bill. “There was not a dry eye in the room, and it just shows how people’s stories can really change policy and law in the state of Colorado. It may be one of the biggest highlights for the session. I don’t think I have ever seen another bill get so much broad bipartisan support so quickly.”

Governor Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill next month.

For once, Colorado isn’t breaking new ground with this piece of marijuana legislation. Rather, the bill is based on successful measures that already passed in other states. There is a power in joining that community, though, as states come together to effectively send a message to the federal government that they need to be able to take care of sick kids and sick people, without fear of losing federal funding.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.