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A Colorado Democrat wants to cap THC levels in marijuana products at 15%

The lone medical doctor in the Colorado legislature is looking to cut back the THC content on the most potent cannabis products, among other changes that would have major impacts on the state’s cannabis industry.

State Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician and Thornton Democrat, said she is still revising the bill she plans to introduce this month, but one of the main provisions would ban legal marijuana products above 15% THC — the psychoactive compound responsible for the marijuana high. The ban would apply to flower and edibles. THC in flower products can top off close to 30%, while concentrates generally run at 70-80%.

“Even if it’s the start of a conversation, I think it’s an important conversation,” Caraveo told The Denver Post on Thursday. “We led the way with legalization, but it doesn’t mean we should never look at the issue of marijuana again. … My role as a physician is that you continue to look at the evidence.”

A recent report on THC by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment raised red flags about high-potency products.

“Use of cannabis with higher THC content (12-18% THC) was associated with diagnosis of a psychotic disorder in adulthood, regardless of childhood cannabis abuse status,” the report said, adding that there’s been an increase in consumption of high-potency concentrates among youth.

But the report did not recommend the kind of steps Caraveo is talking about, which also include restrictions on marketing — possibly by banning billboards and industry partnerships with endorsers who can influence child behavior.

The bill is unlikely to advance at the legislature unless it’s pared down significantly, Caraveo knows that much. It’s not clear that she’ll have any support from Democratic leadership in the House or Senate, and Gov. Jared Polis, who has veto power, has been a strong advocate for legal cannabis and also is generally resistant to sweeping regulatory measures.

Many lawmakers also will be wary of passing a bill that would include the strictest new regulations on the industry since legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.

“I’m not sure that the latest proposal I saw strikes the balance we need to protect the health of our youth and this voter approved industry,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat.

“I understand and for many years have shared the concern that many in our community have expressed about high potency marijuana products and the impact on the developing brain. It’s important for stakeholders … to come together and have this discussion,” he said, but noted: “We have created a thriving, billion-dollar, constitutionally protected, legislatively enacted and governmentally regulated sector that is creating jobs and is critical for our economy.”

Indeed, Colorado’s cannabis industry saw its first $2 billion revenue haul in 2020. And with Democrats in Washington, including U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, thinking they might finally be able to pass a banking bill to let the cannabis industry move beyond largely cash, Caraveo’s bill could be a tough sell.