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Special session on Colorado marijuana issues called a long shot

June 7, 2018 Updated: June 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm
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After drying, the buds are trimmed by hand before being sent to a machine for final trimming. The marijuana was grown and trimmed at White Diamond Botanicals in Pueblo West on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

Members of Colorado's marijuana industry and other advocates on Thursday floated the idea of a special session of the state legislature to overturn Gov. John Hickenlooper's vetoes of three marijuana bills this week.

Hickenlooper nixed legislation that would have allowed samples of cannabis products to be consumed in "tasting rooms" at licensed stores, as well as a measure that would have opened up the state's pot industry to public investors, and another that would have listed autism as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

But with the General Assembly having wrapped up business a month ago, it would be an "uphill fight" to get Hickenlooper or legislators to agree to a special session in the middle of election season, advocates acknowledged at a morning press conference at the Capitol.

"This is something we've explored at a very basic level," said Christian Sederberg, a marijuana industry activist and a partner of the self-titled "Marijuana Law Firm," Vicente Sederberg.

". The issue here is that consumers, patients and the business community all feel like they were run over in this process, after doing a great deal of work, advocating to build a coalition (and) holding stakeholders' meetings. Everyone feels as though they were treated unfairly."

Typically the governor would issue a call for lawmakers to come back to Denver for a special session, but the legislature could do it on its own if the House speaker and Senate president could get a two-thirds majority in each chamber to support it.

But even if legislators did vote to return and took the minimum of three days to pass two new bills - at a general cost of $25,000 a day - the new bills would still land back on Hickenlooper's desk, where he could veto them again. Then lawmakers could attempt to get a two-thirds majority to override that veto. They cannot override this week's vetoes.

"Unless we had buy-in from the governor on changes he would support so he would sign the bills, I don't know what the point would be," Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said when he was reached by phone Thursday morning. "A lot would have to happen to even get to that point to talk about calling people back for a special session."

State Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, said she was looking forward to reintroducing a bill to make autism a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in the session that beings next January.

"This is just a travesty," she said of Hickenlooper's veto. "We will be back."

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, encouraged Hooton and the bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Denver, to look to next session "to provide families with the tools they need to care for their children with autism."

The Governor's Office released an executive order calling on the state health department to do an 18-month study on the safety and effectiveness of using pot to treat autism. If it's found to have no impact on the health or development of children, the state would then create rules that could allow its use.

Hickenlooper's office provided a statement Thursday.

"For me, it's about helping families and their kids who have autism," the governor said. "It's a complex disorder that requires families and doctors working together on the best treatment for each child. Our executive order to expedite research on the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for children with autism lays the groundwork for what we hope will be another evidence-based treatment for families in the near future. In the meantime, we have the commitment from those working closest with these kids to continue to provide the relief and support they deserve."

Hickenlooper said Tuesday, before the veto, that he didn't know of any pediatricians supporting the legislation, and Wednesday nine medical groups issued a statement supporting the veto and his call for more research.

Another bill Hickenlooper vetoed, House Bill 1258, would have allowed licensed shops to offer samples that could be used inside the store.

He also vetoed House Bill 1011, which would have allowed what advocates calls "controlled participation" by publicly traded companies in the state's pot industry.

The cannabis business coalition Colorado Leads was disappointed in the veto of the investment bill.

Board President Chuck Smith, CEO of Dixie Brands, said Hickenlooper's decision "not only jeopardizes tens of thousands of jobs but also shows a true lack of respect for the professionals that worked tirelessly during his term to build the safest and most respected cannabis industry in the country."

He continued, "We look forward to working with the next governor who will show true leadership by honoring the will of the voters and keep Colorado at the forefront of this vibrant and growing world-wide industry."

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