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Opinion: When it comes to protecting Colorado kids, is the marijuana industry in or out?

It’s surprising when an industry leader references many “significant shortcomings” in a recently passed compromise bill on high-potency THC.

By Diane Carlson
Originally published at The Colorado Sun.

As Chuck Smith, board president for Colorado Leads, the state’s cannabis alliance, highlighted June 19 in a guest-opinion piece in The Colorado Sun, Colorado marijuana business leaders had a key role in shaping House Bill 1317, which the state legislature passed earlier this month. 

It’s an important bill that takes steps to better protect Colorado youth while ensuring there is more education and transparency around today’s highly potent concentrated THC products, which are being sold both as medical marijuana and as a way to recreate.  

HB 1317 passed in the House overwhelmingly and unanimously in the Senate.  This, as Chuck points out, is quite an accomplishment in what today can be an overly charged partisan environment. 

And Chuck is right: It couldn’t have happened without certain marijuana business leaders, as I’ve repeatedly learned, as a co-founder of Smart Colorado.

A group of parents started Smart Colorado as a nonpartisan nonprofit organization when protecting kids ranked as the very last priority during the state’s initial policy proceedings after the 2012 passage of Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state.  

Since then, our team has been actively involved in marijuana education and policy at the Capitol and throughout the state. And, through the support and engagement of many thousands of Colorado citizens and key community stakeholders, we’ve helped to secure important youth safeguards that HB 1317 continues to build on.

And Chuck is right again: Many of those safeguards could have never been achieved without the sign-off of certain marijuana leaders, due to their powerful influence in our state.

This is why it’s surprising to hear Chuck in his opinion piece reference many “significant shortcomings” in the bill. Referencing the bill’s mandate for significant THC research, he writes: “The bill does not ensure that research is unbiased and independently vetted.” He calls this a “credibility crisis.”

That’s surprising when his organization and other marijuana leaders took the time to ensure there was specific language and requirements protecting against any type of bias. 

Section 1(c) of the bill says that “the research must be conducted independently without any predetermined outcomes or undue influence from any party.” Could it be any clearer?

To support his claims, Chuck points not to the bill but to the words of one national group that opposes marijuana legalization, a group that wasn’t involved in the negotiations that produced this compromise legislation.  

Created after the passage of Amendment 64, Smart Colorado has never weighed in on the legalization-of-marijuana fight around the country. Our laser focus is demanding that safeguards be put in place to protect kids.

Nearly 50 Colorado groups joined us in supporting the bill, including several of our largest school districts, Children’s Hospital Colorado and other health care organizations, and youth-serving nonprofits from across the state. In addition, more than 100 people testified in favor of it, including parents telling harrowing stories of how high-THC marijuana products hurt their kids. 

Other witnesses included organization heads, school officials, teachers, mental health providers, emergency room physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, religious and community leaders. These people took time out of their hectic schedules to inform legislators about the impacts and tragedies they are seeing on the frontlines in their schools, hospitals, medical and mental health practices, and communities.

The heroics didn’t stop there. Bill sponsor Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician and the only physician serving in Colorado’s legislature, has seen firsthand the impacts for kids and families in her medical practice.

House Speaker Alec Garnett spearheaded the difficult and lengthy discussions based on his experience on marijuana legislation through the years. 

Without them and the determination of their highly respected co-sponsors — Sens. Chris Hansen, Paul Lundeen and Kevin Priola, and Rep. Tim Geitner  — it couldn’t have happened.

The amount of time, emotion, resources, collaboration, and leadership that went into this bill is extraordinary. For a Colorado marijuana leader to then express doubt about the language he and other marijuana leaders had a significant role in shaping leaves me speechless.

I encourage Colorado’s marijuana industry to become national leaders in ensuring that their products don’t harm kids. That means standing behind the agreements they strike — not trying to have it both ways.