Colorado’s marijuana tracking bill delayed, not dead

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A bipartisan marijuana tracking bill that was postponed indefinitely in a Feb. 7 Senate committee meeting is delayed, not dead.

There’ll be a refined version of SB18-029 “Development of Marijuana Tracking Technology,” this legislative session, co-sponsor Sen. Kent Lambert said, that will better explain how marijuana tracking will protect Colorado’s legal businesses, tax revenue, marijuana consumers and the industry itself.

“The intent of this is actually to protect our legal marijuana growers, both medicinal and recreational, against the very, very large percentage of illegal grey and black market marijuana growers,” Lambert told the meeting of the Business, Labor and Technology Committee. “This would give new tools to [the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment], [the Department of Revenue] and our local police forces to be able to identify whether something is … in Colorado legally.”

SB18-029 was introduced Jan. 10 by Lambert and Sen. Leroy Garcia with Rep. Dan Pabon and Rep. Yeulin Willett.

The bill, which calls on the Institute of Cannabis Research at CSU-Pueblo to develop novel technologies for marijuana tracking, needs more work and has met with pushback based on misunderstanding, Lambert said.

At the Feb. 7 committee meeting, he requested SB18-029 be postponed indefinitely, to allow work on a new version of the bill that better communicates what it will and will not do.

“It would not, for instance, release any toxic substances within the marijuana plants,” Lambert told the committee. “We’ve spent millions of dollars to protect consumers in Colorado who are buying legal marijuana, either medicinal or recreational marijuana, to make sure that things like toxic pesticides are not being used in that production. This certainly would not change that.

“It would also not introduce anything into the marijuana plants that would be in any way harmful. So I think we need to strengthen that part of the bill…”

SB18-029, as introduced, reads in part: “The bill requires the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University – Pueblo (institute) to develop marijuana tracking technology (technology). The technology must include an agent that is applied to a marijuana plant, marijuana product, industrial hemp, or industrial hemp product and then scanned by a device. The scan, at a minimum, would indicate whether the marijuana or hemp was cultivated, manufactured, or sold by a licensed marijuana business or registered hemp cultivator.”

Lambert said the pre-filed bill was put together on a tight deadline, and “we were waiting for input sort of to the last minute; we didn’t get a real chance to coordinate it with some of the stakeholders.”

Sponsors need to clarify the message of the bill, Lambert told the Business Journal, “because it was clearly taken out of context and frankly people didn’t understand it…”

Legal marijuana growers were calling to say they don’t want to be regulated with this substance, he said.

“That’s not the intent at all. As a matter of fact, if the federal government comes down and says, ‘We need to shut down marijuana production in Colorado,’ the only bargaining chip we have is to prove that it’s actually regulated and that the stuff out on the market is actually legal — and that’s what this bill will try to help do. … It’s going to be awfully hard to prove to the federal government that we’re actually regulating things effectively when between 50-65 percent of the marijuana sold is illegal.”

Consumer protection comes with the the ability to verify that the marijuana has “gone through the scrutiny of the state in terms of the pesticide control,” Lambert said. “It should be a positive public health factor to know that you’re actually buying the real product that’s been regulated by the state; otherwise you take your chances with all sorts of ill effects.

“If you want to make a legal product, there is no FDA standard for this. There is no purity standard of inspections or anything else from the federal government. … So whatever you’re doing to protect the health and safety of the people of Colorado has to come from Colorado, because the federal government’s not going to help you out here.”

There are challenges in clarifying the proposed technology and methods involved, Lambert said, because “to a certain extent you have to protect the secrecy of what your law enforcement are going to be doing, so we don’t want to say too much about how it works — but we do want to say enough to show ‘Here’s the benefit of what it will do.’”

Director of the Institute of Cannabis Research Dr. Rick Kreminski echoed those concerns.

“It’s a little tricky because some of this involves intellectual property, so I have to speak in generalities…” he said. “Just in general, talking about [marijuana] tracking, there are multiple approaches. Some involve DNA and some involve looking at the chemical composition, the isotope ratios, then another approach is cannabis in particular has a lot of different chemical compounds within it, called cannabinoids, and there’s also terpenes. You could look at the ratio of all those; those are going to vary” depending on where the plant is grown, and between individual plants.

As for the specific tracking technology required by SB18-029, Kreminski said, it lies somewhere between work the ICR has already been doing and projects that will need to be started from scratch.

“We have a lot of different projects underway and a lot of faculty working on these projects, and that includes with partners,” he said. “So we have been thinking about this tracking issue for a while, and we have done some preliminary work so we are aware of what possible options there are.”

The technology will be different to anything that’s out there. The heroin and cocaine tracking equipment currently used by Drug Enforcement and Administration is very expensive, Kreminski said.

“That’s not what this bill is talking about. This bill is saying you need to come up with something that can be identified in a very cost-effective way, quickly, and probably in the field.

“It would have to not impact human health …  but it also would have to be something that could be stable, because the bill referred to edibles, so that means it’s processed plant,” he added.

Kreminski also pointed to CSU-Pueblo’s work relating to the data recording section of the bill, which requires the use of a distributed ledger or blockchain.  

A revolutionary technology, blockchain is a distributed database that verifies transactions in chronological order, using a unique cryptographic signature for each record, forming a permanent ledger on a peer-to-peer network. It is exceptionally secure: Once information is stored on the blockchain, no one can revise or tamper with it.

“Blockchain is of great interest now nationally and internationally,” Kreminski said. “There’s a lot of hype about blockchain but there’s also a lot of real genuine interest, and I have students working on a blockchain project right now.

“They understand it’s loosely connected with this cannabis tracking; they don’t know the details of what would be in the tracking because we don’t know yet, because there is no bill yet that’s been formalized. But I’ve instructed the students that these are, generally speaking, the kinds of things that we’re thinking of, so these are the kinds of data elements you’d have, and who would have read access and who would have access to write to the blockchain…

“So they’re working on it, and it’s pretty neat — I mean they’re college students and they’ve got a working blockchain, and there’s a lot of security components to it.”

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