In the nine years since Colorado became the first state in the country to legalize adult-use marijuana, three things have become clear: the vast majority of Coloradans support legalization and consider cannabis as medicine (Opinion: After 20 years, it’s clear that marijuana is not ‘medicine’, Colorado Sun, Jan. 4).

Chuck Smith

They also believe kids should not have access to it unless it’s for medical treatment.

Nowhere is this more evident than in two Colorado laws that have just gone into effect. One closes a loophole by restricting young people with medical cards from accessing unlimited marijuana products, a practice known as “looping.” The other expands the right of students with “valid medical marijuana recommendation(s)” to access their medication at school.

Both laws are representative of the consistent collaboration among elected officials, regulators, and public-health experts and the cannabis industry, its customers, and patients. Over the last decade, the state has protected kids through responsible regulations, such as enhanced child-proof packaging, and strong education campaigns, while also recognizing that cannabis is critical medicine for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, epileptic seizures, insomnia, and numerous other medical conditions.

The ability for multiple stakeholders and elected officials to fairly balance these complicated interests is the primary reason Colorado’s regulations are considered the strongest in the country and continue to be held up as a model for other states.

To fix the looping problem, the cannabis industry came forward and proposed the implementation of a tracking system like the one used by pharmacies to monitor Sudafed purchases. This, and other industry recommendations, were adopted into the new law, which further limits the amount of marijuana product a medical-card holder between the age of 18 to 21 can purchase each day, and tracks these sales in real time through a statewide system. Individuals are flagged when they’ve reached their daily limit.

The second law protects Colorado students from having to choose between “state education and vital medication,” according to the text of the bill. School boards are now required to allow for storage, possession, and administration of medical cannabis by school employees. Nurses and school staff who administer cannabis are shielded from prosecution or lawsuits. As Gov. Jared Polis said when signing the bill into law, Colorado “will finally treat cannabis like other prescribed medicines.”

At a time when it’s difficult to find any issue people agree on, 91% of Americans agree that cannabis should be legal medicine, according to a Pew Research poll last year. Even though marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has approved one cannabis-derived drug and three synthetic cannabis-related drugs. 

Ironically, even as more states continue to legalize cannabis, youth marijuana use does not increase in those states, according to a study released in September by the Journal of the American Medical Association. In fact, the latest report from the federally-backed National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows a nearly 25% decline in marijuana use among 12 to 17 year olds.

In Colorado, youth marijuana use “has not significantly changed since legalization” in 2012, according to the state’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative went a step further in 2020, noting that youth consumption of cannabis in Colorado is declining.

Working with lawmakers, regulators, and the public, the cannabis industry has created tens of thousands of jobs and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue while establishing a set of strict regulations that ensure public safety. Colorado voters legalized marijuana nine years ago, which resulted in a responsible and regulated industry that is now woven into the vibrant, economic fabric of our state.

Chuck Smith, of Denver, is CEO of BellRock Brands and board president for Colorado Leads, the state’s cannabis business alliance.

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