Three days before he took his own life, 19-year-old Johnny Stack sent a text to his mom. “I want you to know you were right. You told me marijuana would hurt my brain. It’s ruined my mind and my life, and I’m sorry. I love you.” Johnny’s five-year battle with addiction began as a Colorado high-school freshman when an 18-year-old gave him weed. Two years later, he smoked his first “dab,” concentrated marijuana containing 80% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). At eighteen, he received a medical marijuana card, allowing him to purchase up to 40 grams of high-potency THC per day.
Johnny went in and out of multiple schools and mental institutions as the psychological effects of high-potency THC addiction declared war on his brain. Then it was over.
House Bill 21-1317 would prevent tragedies like Johnny’s by treating the marijuana industry with the seriousness it deserves. Governor Jared Polis should sign it into law.
In a hyperpolarized political landscape, HB21-1317 was sponsored and cosponsored by an unlikely alliance of Democrats and Republicans: Speaker of the House Alec Garnett (D-Denver), Senate Minority Whip Paul Lundeen (R-Monument), House Assistant Minority leader Tim Geitner (R-Falcon), and 52 other representatives and senators.
The bill passed the House with only nine “no” votes, and the Senate unanimously. The broad consensus in support of 1317 is a testament to its wisdom.
When we hear “marijuana,” we might associate it with the “hippy weed” of the 1960s. But what kids are smoking today isn’t that. Back then, marijuana rarely contained more than 5% THC, one of the primary chemicals in marijuana, and the one most responsible for its psychological and addictive effects. Today’s marijuana contains up to 90% THC.
HB 21-1317’s purpose is two-fold.
First, it holds the marijuana industry to the same standard that we hold other potent medicines. With the opioid crisis, we saw what happens when a medical industry goes unchecked. We can’t make the same mistake with high-potency THC.
To this day, we know neither what clinic gave Johnny his med card nor its rationale for giving it to him. Johnny was an honor student accepted into Colorado State University on a scholarship. He had no history of the mental or physical illness that warrants a med card. The low standard for receiving a med card in Colorado today is grossly incompatible with the high potency of today’s marijuana. Current law allows one physician to prescribe a med card, with no in-person assessment, and doctors can make a diagnosis without reviewing medical records or investigating to see if marijuana would exacerbate the existing issue.
With some exceptions, 1317 will require “two physicians from separate medical practices [to] have diagnosed the patient as having a debilitating or disabling medical conditions after an in-person consultation” for an 18 to 20-year-old to receive a med card.
It will require stores to tell customers the criminal penalties for illegal resale.
It will also lower the the amount of THC concentrate that 18 to 20-year-olds can purchase to 2 grams per day. The importance of lowering the daily limit goes beyond protecting buyers themselves from large quantities of addictive THC. It also limits a buyer’s ability to sell the substance to others with no medical need for high-potency marijuana, because the buyer will have less to share.
The bill’s second purpose is research and education.
It “requires the coroner in each case of a suicide, overdose death, or accidental death to order a toxicology screen. The coroner shall report the results of the toxicology screen to the Colorado violent death reporting system.” It also requires that one of the two diagnosing doctors for 18 to 20-year-olds have explained the effects of high-potency THC, and it requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to “conduct a systematic review” into the effects of high-potency marijuana.
Johnny Stack should have graduated college next year. Instead, he and many like him found themselves staring down a mountain advertised as a molehill.
House Bill 21-1317 will shine a bright light on the darker corners of the medical marijuana industry. Colorado needs it.
The Gazette Editorial Board