Executive orders that relaxed cannabis regulations in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic expired last week after earlier efforts by state lawmakers to make them permanent failed. The executive order from Democratic Gov. Jared Polis expired on June 10, ending temporary authority for physicians to make medical marijuana recommendations for patients via telemedicine appointments and for cannabis dispensaries to take online payments for customer orders.
Polis issued the executive order on March 20, 2020 in the midst of a stay-at-home order and business closures put into place in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The order was extended several times through 2020 and as recently as May 12, 2021, but finally expired at 11:59 p.m. on June 10.
Under Colorado state law, marijuana businesses are forbidden to take debit or credit card payments for recreational cannabis orders placed online or over the phone, although medical marijuana patients are permitted to pay for orders online. And while state law allows physicians to conduct appointments with patients for a wide range of health issues via telemedicine, consultations for medical marijuana recommendations are prohibited.
The executive order allowing online payments was intended to support efforts to maintain social distancing protocols and no-contact transactions during the pandemic. The telemedicine authorization was issued to protect at-risk patients from unnecessary trips to a healthcare facility.
Lawmakers Rejected Making Pandemic Changes Permanent
Last month, Colorado state lawmakers rejected a bill that would have made medical marijuana telemedicine appointments and online dispensary payments legal on a permanent basis. Rep. Matt Gray introduced the measure, House Bill 1058, in February.
At a meeting of the House Finance Committee last month, Gray noted that the two practices had already been in place without significant problems.
“This has been the law for quite a while now,” Gray told his colleagues on the committee before they voted on the bill on May 20. “We have not seen the sky fall.”
However, the bill became entangled over other aspects of cannabis policy that were also under consideration by the legislature, including an effort to cap the potency of marijuana products.
“This bill has been caught up in a wave of more controversy that has to do with things that are not in this bill,” Gray told the committee.
Some members expressed concern that approximately 4,000 medical marijuana patients are between the ages of 18 and 20, while about 150 patients are between 11 and 17. Although no data was offered to support the assertion, some lawmakers feared the number of young patients could lead to the diversion of medical cannabis to children not authorized to use medical marijuana.
“I think there is, unfortunately in the marijuana world, a lot of bad actors,” Rep. Cathy Kipp said before voting against the measure, although she acknowledged the value of telemedicine and indicated she would support the measure if it came to a vote on the House floor. “The abuses that exist in the system right now are just too great.”
The House Finance Committee voted 7 to 4 to postpone House Bill 1058 indefinitely. Failure to approve the measure led to the end of online recreational cannabis payments and medical marijuana telemedicine appointments with the expiration of Polis’ executive order last week. Physician Peter Pryor said that medical marijuana consultations can be successfully conducted through telemedicine.
“In Colorado, medical marijuana can only be recommended by healthcare providers for pain, HIV, cancer, seizures, glaucoma, nausea, muscle spasms, autism, or PTSD. None of these conditions requires any visual cues,” said Pryor.
Although the expiration of Polis’ executive order marks the end of online dispensary payments and medical marijuana telemedicine consultations, other practices put in place because of the pandemic will remain in force in Colorado. Features including walk-up and drive-through windows, which were put in place without the need for statutory approval, will be allowed to stay in place.