2021 was a busy year for cannabis-related rulemaking and state legislation in Colorado. The industry is maturing, and as it does it’s going through all the changes and regulatory growing pains that come with the end of a prohibition.
Of the bills passed into law in this state last year, three went into effect on Saturday, January 1 of 2022 and one will go into effect in July. Some of this legislation will help medical cannabis patients get better access to their medicine, while others will make it harder for them to do so. All of them, though, were refined based on hundreds of hours of testimony and debate from Colorado’s stakeholders, according to Dominique Mendiola, senior director of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED).
“We wouldn’t have been successful without the active engagement and hands-on effort we received from our stakeholder community.” Mendiola said in a press release. “While parties didn’t always agree, the diverse perspectives of our stakeholders were critical to ensuring we ultimately got to a place of acceptable compromise that aligned with the legislative direction.”
The most controversial of the three bills that went into effect on January 1 was HB 1317, Regulating Marijuana Concentrates. Spearheaded by Representatives Yadira Caravero (D-Thornton) and Alec Garnett (D-Denver), this bill was aimed at reducing the availability of cannabis concentrates to individuals under 21 (even those who have medical licenses). Some research suggests that high potency THC products like these can have lasting effects on developing brains, and the idea behind HB 1317 was to reduce that risk by restricting under 21 access to them (see “Concentrated Regulation,” 7/1/21).
“The reality is that it’s too easy for Colorado’s youth to access high-potency marijuana when they shouldn’t be able to, and we don’t have the full picture of how these products impact the developing brain,” Garnett said at HB 1317’s signing.
However, opponents of HB 1317 say it will kill Colorado’s medical marijuana industry. It requires that all medical marijuana licenses include maximum potency limitations, dosage form recommendations, and daily authorized dosages for the patient recommended by a physician. It will also require medical patients to pay for two medical consultations: one for a physician to diagnose their “debilitating or disabling medical condition” based on their medical records and mental health history, and a second to actually obtain the cannabis recommendation.
That not only makes it twice as expensive to obtain a medical marijuana license, but excludes anyone who doesn’t have insurance or access to their own medical/mental health records. This bill will make it harder for people of lesser means to obtain cannabis medication for their health concerns, bringing into question the social equity impacts this bill will have, according to Cannabis Clinicians Colorado.
At the same time HB 1317 is restricting underage medical access to cannabis, another bill that went into effect on January 1, SB 56, will be increasing it. Known as the “Expand Cannabis Based Medicine at Schools” bill, SB 56 expands the opportunities for students with “valid medical marijuana recommendation(s)” to access their medication at school. Which is to say, children who use cannabis to control epileptic seizures or other serious medical conditions can now use non-smokable cannabis products at school (with a doctor’s note, of course).
“As a person that comes from a community fairly consistent in being opposed to marijuana legalization in Colorado, I’m willing to put my hand up and say I was wrong about cannabis-based medicine,” Senator Chris Holbert (R-CO), who sponsored this bill with Senator Julie Gonzales (D-CO), said.
Colorado “will finally treat cannabis like other prescribed medicines,” Governor Polis said at the signing of this bill.
Notably, both Representatives Caravero and Garnett, who sponsored HB 1317 (Regulating Marijuana Concentrates), voted in favor of SB 56 (Expand Cannabis Based Medicine at Schools).
The third bill that went into effect on the first of this year was HB 1301, Cannabis Outdoor Cultivation Measures. As its name implies this bill legally defines “cross-pollination,” “licensed outdoor marijuana cultivation,” “outdoor cultivation,” “registered outdoor hemp cultivation,” and “volunteer cannabis plant.” HB 1301 also aims to position Colorado’s legal framework to maintain a competitive marijuana market, should the federal government move to legalize cannabis. It charges the MED with reviewing the existing rules and tax laws applying to wholesale marijuana cultivation.
And finally, HB 1216, Marijuana Licensees Ability to Change Designation, goes into effect on July 1 and it’s fairly self-explanatory. This bill simply permits the redesignation of recreational marijuana to medical and vice versa. It will give cultivators and manufacturers of cannabis products more flexibility to redesignate products sent to distributors, and will improve the MED’s capacity to enforce regulations.
As Mendiola with the MED noted, not all stakeholders agreed on these bills and some of them were hotly debated on Capitol Hill in Denver. But they all represent progress on different fronts of Colorado’s cannabis industry—even if they are controversial.
“Our work isn’t complete,” Mendiola said. “We will continue to refine regulations and support the implementation of these new rules well into 2022 and beyond.”