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How one three-letter word in new Colorado law will make marijuana enforcement harder

Coordinating conjunctions matter in how Colorado’s cannabis laws should function.

An “and” instead of an “or” nearly killed a bid to bolster Colorado’s role in medical marijuana research.

The language lapse did, however, manage to fling a monkey wrench in how the state enforces cannabis pesticide regulations.

“(Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division) will be unable to initiate enforcement actions triggered by failed testing unless the law is changed,” Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote in a June 7 letter to Colorado House of Representatives members.

The phrasing blunder was introduced in a last-minute addition to House Bill 1367 — a measure drawn up to create a licensing system for medical marijuana research, effectively opening the doors for private-public projects.

In an end-of-session frenzy, HB 1367 was amended to tack on cannabis pesticides research and testing provisions contained in an unrelated bill that died in committee days before. That amendment included requirements that marijuana pesticide tests had to come from a facility that is both state-certified and ISO-accredited — as opposed to state-certified or ISO-accredited.

“At present, only two testing facilities in the state meet both requirements,” Hickenlooper wrote. “Consequently, this provision will limit the MED’s ability to rely on test results for regulatory and enforcement purposes.”

Instead of vetoing the bill — and killing the research-spurring initiative — Hickenlooper recently let the bill become law without his signature, directing lawmakers to quickly make a fix when the session starts on Jan. 10, 2018 — nine days after the bill takes effect.

Lawmakers have a little bit of a runway to get that done.

“Given the processes for testing and enforcement established in MED rules, it is highly unlikely that any enforcement action will be triggered in the first month of 2018,” he said. “Therefore, a correction enacted by the General Assembly in the early weeks of session is critical.”

Legislative fixes aside, House Bill 1367 co-sponsors and proponents are breathing a sigh of relief that a language mishap didn’t derail an attempt at putting Colorado “at the forefront” of medical marijuana efficacy research, said Dan Pabon, D-Denver.

“We have plenty of anecdotal evidence that support the outcomes (people are) advocating for,” he said, “but we’ve never really done a very strong clinical research project — not just in the state or the country, but the world.”

This new law provides the mechanism for that type of research to occur, he said.

It creates a licensing system that allows for the possession, cultivation and transfer of marijuana for research purposes. It also opens the doors for private industry to help share the burden of getting costly trials off the ground, he said.

Research in the United States has been stifled because of marijuana’s Schedule I status and the restrictive requirements for federally approved projects, Pabon said.

“Right now, there’s more research than any one institution could possibly handle, frankly for the next 10 years,” he said, noting the decades of initial research and discoveries by Israel’s Raphael Mechoulam and others.

“We have so much we need to learn and know about this medicine.”

Pabon envisions Colorado becoming a home base for medical marijuana research and a hub for innovative partnerships with research institutions across the country.

“We shouldn’t be a silo,” he said. “Of course, we’re not allowed to transport cannabis across state lines, but we can transport research across state lines, and that’s what this bill sets us out to do.”