Colorado Doctors Will Soon Be Able to Recommend Medical Marijuana in Place of Painkillers

Governor Jared Polis has signed a bill that allows patients the choice of medical marijuana for any condition in which a doctor would prescribe opioids.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis has signed a bill to allow doctors in the state to recommend medical marijuana for the same medical conditions that would prompt them to recommend painkillers. Polis signed into law Senate Bill 13 on May 23 and doctors will begin the new practice on Aug. 2.

Under Colorado’s current law, patients can only be prescribed medical marijuana if they have one of the state’s qualifying conditions, including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe pain and other chronic disorders. According to text from the Colorado General Assembly, the bill (SB19-013) adds “a condition for which a physician could prescribe an opiate” to the list of disabling medical conditions that authorize a person to use medical marijuana.

David Mangone with the medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access told the Denver Post, that he predicts the bill will reduce opioid overdose deaths. A growing body of evidence suggests that cannabis can be a safer way to treat pain and other conditions.

“Even in states with flourishing nonmedical cannabis markets, it is important to remember that thousands of people count on cannabis as a medicine,” he said.

The new law will apply to adults and minors. Under the provisions of SB19-013, minors who qualify would only be allowed to consume medical marijuana in a non-smokable form when using it on school property.

The bill, which was introduced in January by two Democrats and two Republicans, passed through the state’s general assembly without much opposition. During a Senate hearing on the bill, Dr. Jennifer Hagman, Colorado Psychiatric Society and Colorado Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Society, testified in opposition to the bill.

“Marijuana is not a benign substance,” Hagman testified. “As a child psychiatrist, I see several kids a month who require admission to an impatient psychiatric unit for the onset of psychosis, which can be quite severe and associated with the use of marijuana.”

According to the Colorado Public Health Department, from 2000-2016 nearly 5,000 Coloradans died to the opioid overdose epidemic, which includes deaths related to either prescription opioids or heroin.

“Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl, can be used to treat pain. Opioids are increasingly prescribed following surgery or injury, or for health conditions such as cancer. Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. There is also a concern that addiction to prescription opioids may lead to illicit opioid use, including heroin use,” the health department stated on their website.

Colorado medical marijuana instead of opioids

Advancing Marijuana Laws in Colorado’s Legislation

The signing of SB19-013 is the latest in a trend of marijuana legislation passed by the state’s legislature. In April, Polis signed into effect House Bill 19-1028. The new law allows for autism to be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions for a medical marijuana card.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2001. As of February 2019, the state has 86,832 active patients in its medical marijuana program. Colorado’s medical marijuana law allows minors to participate, as long as their parents consent. Since June 2016, schools in Colorado are required to allow students who are registered medical marijuana patients to access their cannabis products while on school grounds.

Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older in November 2012. The law allows adults to legally buy, possess, or transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The consumption of marijuana must be done in private or within businesses with social consumption licenses.

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