Colorado lawmakers oppose consolidating momentary marijuana guidelines throughout COVID-19

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Telemedicine for medical marijuana and payments to online pharmacies – two business practices introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic – could soon go away.

The measures were enacted through orders from Governor Jared Polis in March 2020 and should help create more social distancing for retail marijuana shoppers and medical patients. With these orders eventually ending, however, State Representative Matt Gray wanted to make the provisional rules permanent and introduced House Law 1058 in February.

“This has been the law for a long time,” Gray told his colleagues on the House Finance Committee before the bill was put to the vote on May 20. “We didn’t see the sky fall.”

Telemedicine is allowed in Colorado for a variety of doctor consultations, but visits to medical marijuana are still prohibited under state law. Pre-ordering marijuana products that will later be paid for at the pharmacy is already legal in Colorado, but online payment for recreational orders with credit, debit, or prepaid cards is prohibited under applicable law. (However, medical patients are allowed to pay for their orders online.)

But while the two temporary practices have been running smoothly for nearly fourteen months, Colorado will ban both again after the Polis Executive Order expires, as the House Finance Committee voted 7-4 to postpone HB 1058 indefinitely.

Getting caught in an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of commercial products and their effects on children, Gray’s bill is now playing out in yet another proposal for new medical marijuana and concentrate restrictions. “This bill has sparked a wave of further controversy related to things that are not in this bill,” Gray told the committee.

Although no research has explored a link between teenage medical marijuana patients and illicit use by young people, rumors persist. According to data from the state Medical Marijuana Registry, approximately 4,000 patients in Colorado are between 18 and 20 years old, and another 150 patients are between 11 and 17 years old. Those numbers, along with months of lobbying and opposition complaints, were enough to get the committee going against Gray’s bill.

Recognizing the benefits of telemedicine, MP Cathy Kipp even said she would vote for Gray’s bill if he were in the House – but said she could not support efforts in a smaller committee.

“I think there are unfortunately a lot of bad actors in the marijuana world,” she said before voting against the measure. “The abuses that currently exist in the system are just too big.”

Gray had amended the bill last week to require 18 to 20 year olds to get two medical recommendations and a medical record review before being approved for medical marijuana via telemedicine, but that wasn’t enough, committee chair Shannon Bird said, they still have “concerns that there are suitable guard rails”.

The executive orders that allow telemedicine and online shopping were extended by Polis for another thirty days on May 12th. Will he renew it again if Colorado relaxes COVID-19 restrictions? “The legislature has spoken,” notes a source close to the bill.

Although telemedicine and online payments were rejected by lawmakers, some new business practices introduced during the pandemic were successfully adopted by the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division without legal approval. They include a rule that allows take-away marijuana sales through roadside transactions, drive-through, and walk-up windows after the polis arrangement expires.

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Thomas Mitchell has been a cannabis-related writer for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate, and general news for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman, and Fox Sports. He is currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.

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