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Big Pharma Bill Considered in Colorado

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Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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Big Pharma Bill Considered in Colorado

New bill could make CBD available through pharmacies in Colorado.

Activists and industry advocates alike in Colorado are closely watching a slew of measures now before the state’s General Assembly concerning several aspects of the state’s new cannabis economy and the unfolding norms for use of the herb, which has been officially legal there since 2012.

One bill currently proposed in Colorado is meeting with some open controversy because of its implications for the involvement of large pharmaceutical companies in the cannabis industry. HB 18-1187, which concerns pharmaceutical products containing the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), states that if the federal Food & Drug Administration “approves a prescription medicine that contains cannabidiol, thereafter, prescribing, dispensing, transporting, possessing, and using that prescription drug is legal in Colorado.”

This is clearly a reference to Epidiolex, a CBD-based pharmaceutical from the UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which producers expect to win FDA approval this year, as the In-Pharma website notes.

The Southern Colorado Cannabis Council (SoCoCC) has been closely following the legislation. The organization’s executive director Jason Warf told Cannabis Now that he wants legislation that will make sure the little guy is protected. While about 30 percent of the retail cannabis outlets in Colorado are “conglomerates or chain stores,” Warf says, “the majority of our industry is mom-and-pop, and the truth is there are still some financial restraints on most of them.”

The SoCoCC met with lawmakers and pharmaceutical industry lobbyists to work out protections in the bill for local CBD producers. Warf says his organization is walking the fine line of supporting those changes to the legislation while remaining neutral on the bill itself.

On March 21, the revised bill was passed unanimously by House Public Healthcare and Human Services committee.

The Colorado Hemp Industries Association (COHIA) says it opposed the initial draft of the bill, but is now supporting it with caveats. A COHIA statement says the organization “is working to include language that guarantees protection for hemp-based CBD companies operating lawfully in the state of Colorado. As the hemp industry continues to mature across the country, we will have to work with pharma companies seeking market space.”

At issue here appears to be the role of GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK-based multinational with globe-spanning ambitions. GW’s industrial-scale operations in Britain are cultivating prodigious quantities of cannabis for production of its pharmaceuticals. There are evidently concerns that if the medical cannabis industry comes to be dominated by such giants, there could be little room for smaller producers in places like Colorado — part of the more generalized fear that legalization could lead to “corporate cannabis” or “Big Bud.”

Warf said that his organization has “some trepidation” about GW Pharmaceuticals entering the market. “But they are coming,” he said. “The best we can hope for is strong protections for our current industry as GW comes into Colorado.”

“We sat down with GW lobbyists to work out these provisions,” Warf said. “Now the law makes clear that they’re only going to offer their products through pharmacies. That’s a limited makret focusing on Medicare and Medicaid, while locally produced CBD already has a widespread custumer base.”

Warf added that he did see an upside to this sort of legislation: Cannabis has clearly become normalized.

Meanwhile, the COHIA is opposing the more openly restrictive Senate Bill 18-029 — which has been dubbed the “Marijuana Tracking Bill.” The COHIA writes that the bill “unfairly groups hemp in with marijuana. It will force rural farmers to purchase an unproven tracking technology in order for law enforcement to track and trace hemp and hemp products as though they are illicit drugs.”

Some of the other bills before the Colorado legislature are being greeted with widespread support. Even the Denver Post editorialized in favor of a measure to allow cannabis “tasting rooms” at retail outlets. House Bill 1258 would open up the existing law’s restrictions on public use, and potentially pave the way for Amsterdam-style coffee shops or smoking lounges in Colorado.

Another bill is a sure sign of fast-eroding stigma; HB 18-1286 would allow school nurses to legally administer non-smokable cannabis preparations to students on school property. Under current law, only primary caregivers can administer cannabis-derived medicines in the state’s schools.

Likely to meet with more mixed reviews is HB 1011, which would allow out-of-state companies and individual investors to have ownership interest in state-licensed cannabis businesses. As Inlander notes, the bill would drop current prohibition on publicly traded owners for Colorado canna-businesses, and lift a 15-person cap on out-of-state ownership.

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