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Colorado House rejects ban on cannabis use in churches, OKs medical marijuana for PTSD

April 20, 2017 Updated: April 20, 2017 at 4:30 pm
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photo - Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014.(The Gazette file)
Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014.(The Gazette file) 

As marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Denver's Civic Center on Thursday, praying for rain to hold off during 420 festivities, lawmakers across the park rejected an effort to ban cannabis use in churches.

The Legislature on Thursday also approved adding post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, pushed a last-minute amendment as a bill that addressed open and public consumption was being considered for a final time in the House. Some lawmakers suggested that Pabon had hijacked the broader bill for an unrelated issue.

"This bill is about open and public. I'm confused about what we're doing here because we're talking about a place of worship ..." said Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton. "Allow people to do what they want in a church."

Pabon pushed the amendment in response to the International Church of Cannabis, which opened in Denver as lawmakers were debating the legislation. Pabon was careful to offer an exemption for religious purposes, but it wasn't enough to persuade colleagues.

"We have a particular group of individuals who are seeking to take advantage of our consumption laws because a church would be considered private ... and using that as a shroud to essentially allow consumption in a place where it should not be allowed," Pabon said "A place of religious worship should not be authorized as a place for marijuana consumption."

The International Church of Cannabis made national headlines after it boasted "Elevationism," what the church refers to as religion for marijuana consumers. Followers believe cannabis should be used as a sacrament.

The effort by Pabon saw criticism from both sides of the aisle. It failed on a procedural motion and never came up for a vote.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, said he "thoroughly and utterly" disagreed with the proposal.

"This is the archetypal nanny state right here," Salazar said. "This amendment is saying to people we don't like the way you worship."

The attempt highlighted the continually evolving Senate Bill 184, which started as a measure that would have authorized local governments to allow private marijuana clubs. But that provision was stripped from the bill over health concerns and opposition expressed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Instead, the measure only defines what open and public consumption of marijuana is, a thorny issue that has perplexed lawmakers since rules and regulations were first crafted in 2013.

Public places - where marijuana use is prohibited - would be defined as highways, transportation facilities, parks, playgrounds, and the common areas of public buildings, to name a few places.

The stripped-down bill was approved by the House on a vote of 35-30. It now heads back to the Senate for consideration of House amendments before it can go to the governor for his signature.

Also on Thursday, the House gave initial approval to a bill that would add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The Legislature has been debating the issue for years, but this is the first year that offers a glimmer of hope for pushing the legislation through.

"On this auspicious day, we have a serious bill," said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, a sponsor of the bill, who pointed to the 420 celebrations.

"We know that there is no medical cure for post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy, medication, exercise, diet, there's no silver bullet. ... This bill opens that door, it opens that door for our veterans to ensure that they are not sacrificing their future the way they decided to sacrifice their own health, and in some cases their own mental health for our country."

The legislation saw some controversy over whether children should be allowed to use medical marijuana for PTSD. A successful amendment was offered Thursday that adds strict guidelines for recommending marijuana for children, including requiring that a pediatrician, board-certified family physician or board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, make the recommendation.

Senate Bill 17 must still receive a final vote by the House before heading back to the Senate to approve amendments.

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