Earlier this year, proposed legislation intended to protect Colorado teenagers from illegally obtaining marijuana was introduced in the state legislature. The bill, however, was so broad and far reaching, it jeopardized the continued existence of the cannabis industry and the ability of adult consumers and medical patients of all ages to legally obtain marijuana products.
Instead of running a scorched-earth campaign in the legislature or waging a media war, leaders of the marijuana business community rolled up our sleeves and went to work to make the bill better, not only for our companies, employees, customers, and patients, but also for the teenagers who were still finding ways to obtain marijuana products illegally.
For five months, we were at the table collaborating with policymakers and stakeholders to help create a bill with responsible regulations and balanced public policy. We heard concerns that minors may be obtaining marijuana products illegally and identified areas in the law where the legislature could make policy improvements to further safeguard Colorado teenagers.
It was those of us in the cannabis industry who suggested limiting how much marijuana product 18- to 21-year-olds with medical marijuana cards can purchase daily. And it was we who recommended utilizing the statewide tracking system, which is already in place, to determine when individuals reached their daily legal limit, much like when you buy Sudafed at the drug store.
These recommendations were adopted by the sponsors of House Bill 1317 and are perhaps the most critical provisions in the legislation that passed in the General Assembly, as they specifically address the stated goal of the original bill: To protect the safety and health of teenagers.
While this type of cooperation may be unusual in other states, it is not in Colorado. Elected officials, regulators, and public health experts have worked with the cannabis industry and its customers and patients over the last decade to protect kids through responsible regulations, such as enhanced child-proof packaging, and strong education campaigns.
This collaborative process is why Colorado’s cannabis regulations are still considered the strongest in the country and continue to be held up as a model for other states. It is also why, despite the current hyper-partisan political environment, these groups were able to come to the table this legislative session to produce a bill that puts teenagers first.
I won’t pretend it’s been easy to watch the armchair quarterbacking of those who want to ban legal, adult-use marijuana. While these local and national groups spent the legislative session tweeting and posting incendiary and false allegations and attacking us with sensationalized, factually inaccurate opinion pieces, we were doing the hard work of helping create meaningful public policy.
Are there still significant shortcomings in the final bill that lawmakers passed? Yes. Many, in fact.
For years, the industry has advocated for more federal and state scientific, peer-reviewed research, so we were encouraged to see Colorado move in that direction with the formation of a scientific review council and a three-year state funded study.
Unfortunately, the bill falls far short in its mandate for the council. Specifically, the bill does not ensure that research is unbiased and independently vetted, nor does it require that the research include potential benefits of marijuana products in addition to the research on the potential negative effects.
Even before the council has started its work, these omissions call into question its future findings. This credibility crisis is underscored by those opposing independent and unbiased research review.
One anti-marijuana activist from a national group demanded that when the council does begin its research, it “must recommend a cap on THC potency and our lawmakers must swiftly move to implement the policy.” What is the point of state-funded research if some already believe the outcome is decided?
We came to the table in good faith this legislative session to find common-sense solutions that protect Colorado’s teenagers while also ensuring the preservation of a highly regulated and responsible industry that employs more than 40,000 people and has infused $2.1 billion into the economy and generated $1.6 billion in marijuana tax revenues since 2014.
We urge all sides to allow the research work called for in the bill to be conducted fairly for the benefit of all Coloradans.
Chuck Smith is CEO of Denver-based BellRock Brands and board president for Colorado Leads, the state’s cannabis business alliance.