“What we’re trying to do here is address how people view concentrates and better educate folks.”
These words were spoken recently at a news conference at the state Capitol regarding a new bill that’s sending shockwaves across the state and nation. House Bill 1317 is the first-ever, massive overhaul of marijuana industry regulations we’ve seen in the state since legalization in 2012.
In a stunning development, these words were not spoken by a back-bench representative, a law enforcement official, or a member of the clergy. Instead, they were spoken by chief sponsor of the bill and Speaker of the Colorado House, Alec Garnett.
The chief aim of the bill, being co-led by Speaker Alec Garnett and Representative Yadira Caraveo — the only member of the Colorado legislature to also be a medical doctor — would be to establish a scientific review council to conduct a thorough analysis of the research related to the health effects related to the use of today’s high potency marijuana and concentrates.
To understand why this bill is such a big deal, we must first understand the issue about marijuana potency. From the ’70s all the way to the early 2000’s, marijuana contained roughly between 1-3% THC (the main, psychoactive component that makes a user feel “high”). Since then, THC potency in marijuana flower has risen to between 18-23% THC. Commercialization has led to an even stronger form of the substance known as concentrates, also referred to as “shatter,” “dabs,” or vaping oils. In any marijuana store in Colorado, you can find such products containing up to 99% pure THC.
At least 56 peer-reviewed studies have confirmed a link between the use of high potency marijuana and psychosis. This includes a 2020 study published in the Journal of American Medicine that found high potency marijuana was associated with “significant increases” in addiction and mental health disorders.
The council created under this bill would make recommendations to the legislature based on its review on further regulations such as a potency cap. This could not come at a better time.
According to a 2020 release of data from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) — a state-wide survey routinely heralded by the pot lobby as “proof” that youth use of marijuana has not risen in the state — the use of dabs has risen five-fold among youth in our state since 2017 while use of marijuana vapes have doubled.
While these trends were developing, scrutinizing the marijuana industry has been akin to heresy. Simply pointing out the concerning trends and research results in one being labeled a “prohibitionist” and accused of doing the bidding of Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, and Big Pharma. Ironically, those entities are fully invested in the pot lobby, which has become one of the largest lobbying forces in our state.
The introduction of HB 1317 by House leadership and its unanimous adoption by the House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee signals that we are moving towards a new day in Colorado where the pot industry can no longer sweep its dirty laundry under the rug.
Other states such as Vermont and Montana have seen the result of Colorado’s laissez-faire approach to the marijuana industry and have moved to restrict THC potency, severely limit advertising, and taken other steps to ensure public health remains paramount to the addiction-for-profit interests of the marijuana industry and its addiction-for-profit investors. It’s time Colorado follows their lead.
The industry is not happy with this and has been lashing out non-stop since rumors of this bill were leaked months ago. “Of course they’re not happy,” said Speaker Garnett, “But this is something that is important.”
Speaker Garnett is right, and the health, safety, and productivity of future Coloradans depends upon getting this bill over the finish line. Given the preponderance of data surrounding the harms of using high potency marijuana, the scientific research council must recommend a cap on THC potency and our lawmakers must swiftly move to implement the policy.
Luke Niforatos is a life long resident of Denver, Colorado. He proudly serves as Executive Vice President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).