Colorado’s New Law To Restrict Teen Marijuana Use Faces Legal Challenge

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Marijuana grows in The Clinic’s warehouse in Denver’s Overland neighborhood. March 19, 2021.

The parents of a medical marijuana user in Colorado say a new law that aims to curb young people’s access to highly potent marijuana is unconstitutional.

Nineteen-year-old Benjamin Wann uses medical marijuana to treat his epilepsy. A lawsuit filed earlier this month on his behalf in Denver District Court states that the law is “...unlawfully restricting patients from accessing their constitutionally protected right to the amount of medical marijuana provided.”

The law limits how much medical marijuana adult users can purchase per day to no more than eight grams. The previous daily purchase limit was 40 grams. Eighteen- to 20-year-old users could purchase no more than two grams per day.

However, there are several exemptions: a physician's authorization, a significant physical or geographic hardship, a homebound patient, or a medical user who had a card before age 18.

While Wann would be exempt from the purchase limit, his attorney Alex Buscher takes issue with a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system for medical marijuana being used to monitor patient data to ensure people don’t purchase more than the daily legal limit. The tracking system, which has patient information, would issue an error message if the daily limit was exceeded.

Buscher added that the requirement for physicians to authorize a maximum potency level, dosing and type of medical marijuana product is especially problematic because those provisions could be seen as a prescription under federal law.

“A lot of doctors in Colorado are seeing these new certification requirements and they're saying, ‘Well, this is a prescription. And if I were to comply with these requirements that are now required by the legislature, and the (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), I'll have my DEA license pulled,’” Buscher said “Doctors have flat out stated that they will not comply with this.”

Gov. Jared Polis was the only defendant listed in the lawsuit as of Friday although Buscher said other government agencies will be added in the coming weeks. CPR News reached out to Polis’ office and legislators. They declined to comment for this story citing pending litigation. 

Hashim Coates is the executive director of Black Brown and Red Badged, a coalition of licensed Black and Brown marijuana business owners. While his group supported the intent of certain provisions in the legislation, he said in a statement that he’s not surprised by the lawsuit.

“The speed at which the bill was rushed and the exclusion of critical stakeholders, like patients, was always going to create unintended consequences,” Coates said. “BBRB fought hard to ensure patients’ voices and the concerns of Black and Brown business owners were listened to. Unfortunately, they were not.”

Coates said he is glad the law puts more money into potential new research on the impacts of highly potent marijuana and promotes safe consumption and efforts to prevent youth from gaining illegal access to marijuana.

Researchers say 80 percent of legal pot sales go to the 20 percent of customers who are regular users. And they’re not just buying joints or marijuana flower that’s become steadily more potent over the years. 

Concentrates, like hash oils and waxes, can have upwards of 80 percent THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. Not a lot is known about the health risk of concentrates, but there are some concerning anecdotes from parents and physicians.

Ultimately Buscher, the attorney, takes issue that the measure tried to curb youth access by solely focusing on the medical side as the source. 

“I don't doubt that some of it is coming from the medical system, just like I don't doubt that a lot of it is coming from the retail and recreational system, but we need to have a workable, comprehensive solution, not just throw patients under the bus,” he said.