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Hickenlooper authorizes study of treating autistic children with marijuana day after veto

June 6, 2018 Updated: June 6, 2018 at 10:39 pm
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Gov. John Hicknelooper held his last public bill signing Tuesday, a traditional ceremonial event for dozens of high-profile pieces of legislation each year. Term limits mean Hickenlooper will be replaced next January. (Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics)

The day after Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have made autism a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne signed an executive order calling for more research.

Lynne signed the order because Hickenlooper was traveling Wednesday to give a speech in Detroit, his office said.

The order instructs the state Board of Health to examine the "safety and efficacy of medical marijuana" to treat autistic children over the next 18 months. If no significant health or developmental risks are found, the Health Department would be authorized to modify rules on qualifications for children and medical marijuana.

Talking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, before deciding on the veto of House Bill 1263, Hickenlooper expressed his sympathy for the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who haven't found help with traditional remedies.

But, he said, he worries about sending a message that marijuana is a panacea for other teenagers' problems, without adequate research.

Colorado Politics reported Tuesday that Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is conducting the first U.S. study on the benefits of medical marijuana in autistic children. The executive order encourages parents and autistic children to participate in the study.

HB 1263 sailed through the Legislature ahead of the governor's veto.

Supporters of the legislation didn't see the executive order as an apt compromise, especially since a new Legislature and governor could address the issue as soon as next January.

Stacey Linn, executive director of the Cannability Foundation, which fought for the legislation, said parents met with the governor Tuesday and shared international research and other compelling information with him. She saw no need for more research and more time at the expense of children who are suffering.

"I think there are a number of families who woke up this morning and don't see this as a win for them," she said. "I don't think there's too much solace in an 18-month window to tell us what we already know."

Linn is the mother of the late Jack Splitt, the namesake of Jack's Law, which the Colorado Legislature passed before his death in 2016. Jack's Law allows children who have a medical marijuana license to use it as needed at school. House Bill 1286, signed by the governor Monday, would allow school nurses to administer doses.

The medical marijuana-autism bill was among four bills Hickenlooper rejected Tuesday, bringing his veto total to nine for the year. His previous record for vetoing bills out of a single session had been five, in 2014. Most years, it's been one or two.

Earlier Tuesday, Hickenlooper signed his last bill in a public ceremony in his office. The governor signed the bipartisan House Bill 1266 to expand the Career Development Success Program, a job-training effort to link students with training for good jobs.

"This is, I will say, a little bit bittersweet," as he stroked his name across the new law to loud applause from dozens of staff and supporters. He joked about the 1,200 miles he traveled in four days signing bills at ceremonies across the state.

His acknowledgment of the bill-signing occasion suggests he has no plans for a special session between now and next January, when the limit of two terms sends him packing.

Earlier, as he pondered whether to veto certain bills, he said: "Some of these bills have very good sides and very bad sides, and it's hard to balance out what is the overall effect. We're trying to do the best we can."

House Bill 1263, the autism measure, was particularly vexing for the governor, who waited until late in the day to reject the notion that autism should be a reason someone qualifies for medical marijuana, especially children.

Parents and children with autism rallied at the Capitol first thing Tuesday morning. They maintained a vigil outside his office the rest of the work day.

Only five of the 30 states and the District of Columbia that allow medicinal marijuana list autism as a qualifying condition.

"I'm sure they're out there, but I haven't found a pediatrician yet who thinks it's a good idea to sign this bill," the governor said in his office at mid-afternoon.

He said other autism advocates did not come out in favor or against the bill. "Their neutrality speaks volumes," Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper also vetoed House Bill 1011, which would have allowed publicly traded companies to invest in the Colorado marijuana industry.

"We have many people I respect who think it's not a good idea for the branding of the state," Hickenlooper said. "The Attorney General's Office and the attorney general have given us a very pointed letter that this is a bad idea and should be vetoed."

Of note, Hickenlooper had vetoed a bill Monday that would have allowed people to sample marijuana in licensed shops, the so-called tasting rooms, the same day he signed a bill to allow school nurses to administer medical marijuana to school children.

Hickenlooper vetoed two other measures Tuesday:

House Bill 1083, which would have offered a sales and use tax exemption or aircraft to be used by on-demand air carriers.

Senate Bill 156, which would have relaxed rules that require local governments to publish financial information in newspapers.

Meanwhile, he signed House Bill 1136 to expand coverage with inpatient care for people fighting opioid addiction, legislation that carries a $174.2 million cost when it's fully implemented in 2020.

He attached a "signing statement" to the bill, noting its flaws, including that there aren't enough hospital beds available to serve the projected increase.

"Coverage for inpatient and residential treatment won't help if Colorado lacks adequate capacity to provide this care," Hickenlooper wrote.

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