CO: In Record-Setting Veto, Hickenlooper Rejects Bill Adding Autism To Conditions Eligible For Medical Marijuana

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Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday set a new benchmark for vetoes in a year as he rejected a measure that would have provided medical marijuana access for people with autism spectrum disorder, saying he could not ignore “overwhelming concerns from the medical community.”

“If we sign that bill we end up, without question, in some way encouraging more young people to look at this as an antidote for their problems,” he told reporters before turning down the legislation, House Bill 1263.

The measure would have added autism spectrum disorder to the list of conditions eligible in Colorado for medical marijuana treatment, a list that includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, post-traumatic stress or certain chronic or debilitating diseases or medical conditions with certain symptoms.

State lawmakers cannot override Hickenlooper’s veto because they are no longer in session.

According to legislative fiscal analysts, 93,314 people were authorized to use medical marijuana in Colorado as of the end of February, 314 of whom were under age 18.

The governor’s office says Hickenlooper on Tuesday met with families of children with autism as he weighed whether to sign House Bill 1263. Several mothers and their children set up camp outside his office doors at the Colorado Capitol as they waited for news.

“I think its unfortunate,” said state Sen. Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and one of the bill’s prime sponsors. “I think there are a lot of families that it would benefit. The reality is the traditional pharmaceuticals aren’t always the right choice for these kids, either.”

Fenberg also rejected the notion that the legislation could have led to more kids — outside of those with autism — using marijuana.

“This is not for people who have just a little bit of Asperger (syndrome) or something,” he said. “This is for people who have kids who at the end of the day are hurting themselves. It’s not a justification to be able to smoke pot. It’s genuinely about medicine to help people. And there’s science behind it.”

Hickenlooper, as part of his veto, ordered state health officials to study whether marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for autism.

Hickenlooper vetoed three other bills Tuesday — House Bill 1083, House Bill 1011 and Senate Bill 156. They dealt, respectively, with exempting private planes from sales and use taxes, allowing publicly traded corporations to invest in marijuana businesses and loosening requirements that counties publish financial information in newspapers.

In all, the governor has rejected 9 measures from the recently ended 2018 legislative session — the most he’s ever turned down in one year.

Since taking office in 2010, Hickenlooper has vetoed 23 bills, according to his office.

The year of his second-highest number of vetoes was 2014, when he turned down five bills.

With the veto, Hickenlooper was nearing the finish line Tuesday of sifting through the more than 400 bills sent to him by the Colorado General Assembly this year.

“Some of these bills have very good sides and very bad sides,” Hickenlooper told reporters.

He chose a piece of workforce development legislation — House Bill 1266, a symbol of one his biggest priorities over two terms  — for his final public bill signing Tuesday before a crowd huddled into his office.

“Hopefully these programs are going to thrive and endure long after the name Hickenlooper has lost any currency,” he said.

Hickenlooper was then handed a set of pens from every year of his administration to sign the measure.

“It is, I will say, a little bit bittersweet,” he said as he prepared to turn the bill into a law.

After creating the new policy, Hickenlooper took a few questions from reporters — whom he thanked for their hard work over the years — before being showered in applause and preparing to head off to Detroit for a speaking engagement.