In Colorado, Regulators Tackle New Cannabis Limits

Depending on who you ask, Colorado House Bill 21-1317 is either a “modest update” to the state’s cannabis landscape, or an effort to “massively rein in the state’s marijuana industry.” 

The former is how Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ spokesperson Conor Cahill framed the bill to Cannabis Wire, calling it “a modest update to our regulatory framework to take further steps to ensure we are protecting our children,” and the latter is from an email sent out from the nation’s largest anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, claiming the bill as a victory. Polis signed the bill into law in June.  

What is certain is that the bill, for which the crafting of regulations kicked off this week, is of intense interest. The bill saw lobbying from PAX Labs to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as Cannabis Wire reported. And, the new law is already the focus of a lawsuit, filed on behalf of a 19 year-old patient with epilepsy, that argues the law is “unlawfully restricting from accessing their constitutionally protected right to the amount of medical marijuana provided.”

It is against this backdrop that Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division has convened a 34-member work group to craft regulations for HB21-1317. The group, which held its first meeting on Tuesday, includes members representing entities that range from the University of Colorado School of Medicine to the Marijuana Industry Group. 

Broadly, the bill’s sponsors summed it up as an effort to curb underage consumption, educate consumers about high-THC products, prevent diversion, and collect and study data about cannabis-related hospital visits. Its provisions, for example, limit the amount of concentrated products that a patient can purchase in one day: for those aged 18-20, it’s 2 grams, and for those 21 and older, it’s 8 grams. It also calls for better real-time data reporting to prevent patients from purchasing from multiple shops in order to obtain more than the legal limit. 

The most contentious issue on the work group’s agenda on Tuesday was the “hardship exemption,” which would allow a patient with a yet-to-be-defined “physical” or “geographical” hardship to purchase more than the new limits allow. There was disagreement over whether a patient or physician should determine hardship, for example, and whether it was fair to determine what qualifies as hardship in the first place.

Shannon Fender, the director of public affairs for Native Roots, a Colorado cannabis company, suggested that the determination should be something that “a patient does alone or in consultation with their doctor.” 

“There’s a lot of considerations, and hardship for one patient could be very different based on physical issues, mental issues, or mobility, transportation,” Fender continued. “If we empower the patient and/or the doctor to make that determination, that would be most appropriate, instead of us sitting as the arbiters of whose geographic hardship is worthy, and whose is not.”

Dawn Reinfeld, the co-founder of Blue Rising Together, a non-profit focused on gun violence and “high-potency THC regulation,” said the group “adamantly would oppose” leaving the determination to a patient because it “seems completely to go against the spirit of the bill, and the bill was to close these loopholes.”

Jesse Hinckley, a physician who is on faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, suggested that the “determination should be made in collaboration with a provider, whether that’s a physician or a different provider,” and the patient.

He added, “The reality is, no matter what sorts of regulations are put in place, people find ways to adapt to those regulations to meet their interests and needs.”

Much of the remaining conversation focused on consumer education, for example, around serving sizes of products containing THC, and risks and precautions. 

Truman Bradley, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade group in the state, outlined the myriad ways in which cannabis products affect consumers differently and said, “I think it’s important that we provide some guidelines, but that we also acknowledge that this isn’t a one size fits all.”

Bradley suggested a take-home pamphlet, but also noted the rising use of QR codes in restaurants during COVID to show menus, and suggested that could be a way to provide cannabis consumers with more information, more efficiently.

Bia Campbell, an associate at VS Strategies, a Colorado-based consulting firm, reminded those on the call that “public policy is usually a short blanket: when we cover something, we don’t cover something” else. With that in mind, she suggested being “mindful of the sustainability repercussions of creating extra packaging and labeling.”

Kevin Gallagher, executive director of the Colorado Cannabis Manufacturers Association, agreed on the packaging point, and said, “We don’t want to crowd the labels,” he said of over-packed labels, adding, “If you have a giant novel, your eyes are just glazing over. I don’t know how many people on the call have actually read the back of an alcohol bottle, or even a cannabis container, for that matter.”

Reinfeld pushed back against the points about packaging and labeling, and the QR code idea. 

“The Speaker of the House was adamant that there are no QR codes. Something actually has to be given to people,” she said. “And quite frankly, having people who profit off of these products determine what health and safety and consumer protection information is given to consumers is ridiculous.” 

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