DENVER — After a very busy 2021 legislative session, 169 new Colorado laws went into effect Tuesday, ranging from lost or stolen firearm reporting requirements to suicide prevention. The laws represent one-third of the 502 pieces of legislation that passed during the session.
Among the new laws: one to require businesses to accept cash, another to prohibit schools from allowing legacy admissions, pre-trial detention reforms, new police accountability laws and more.
Colorado’s Democratic leaders celebrated the implementation of the new laws, saying in a statement the legislative session was one of the most productive.
“From passing new laws to combat climate change and improve our air quality to working to prevent gun violence and lower the cost of housing, the 2021 session was one of the most productive in history,” said Speaker of the House Alec Garnett (D-Denver). “I’m proud of the work lawmakers did last session to support their communities, revitalize our state and help Colorado build back stronger.”
Roughly a dozen of the new laws deal with health care in one form or another and the families who advocated for them say many have the potential to change lives.
New opioid antagonist law
Senate Bill 11 requires pharmacists who dispense opioids to talk to patients about the dangers of the medications and to offer them an opioid antagonist such as Narcan in case there is an overdose.
Corinthiah Brown is an addiction counselor who has spent the last 23 years in recovery herself.
Over the years she’s lost friends, clients and even family members to addiction, including her son.
“In December 2019, I got the phone call that every parent dreads to tell me that they found my son. They found him unresponsive. I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever get over,” Brown said.
Brown’s son Torrey started down a path toward addiction when his seven-month-old son was murdered. He had started drinking and had injured himself, so he was prescribed opioids.
Eventually, the prescriptions turned into an addiction. Brown believes the new law might have helped save her son’s life had it been in effect two years ago.
“It’s possible that he could have still been,” Brown said. “Somebody could have saved him.”
Brown testified for the first time in front of Colorado lawmakers in support of the bill. She hopes it will help save other lives in the future.
“At least we have hope that there’s an opportunity to save someone because people are going to use,” she said. “I think it will change lives.”
There was pushback during the debate stages of the bill from some in the pharmacy community over the cost and whether it should be the doctors, not pharmacists, who work to educate the patients.
Even before the law, opioid antagonists were available through the pharmacy. However, Brown says some people have been unable to get them, and it can be embarrassing to ask for it.
“There’s still a lot of shame and stigma around addiction and recovery, and so they’re not going to go in there and ask for it,” Brown said.
New school-based cannabis medicine law
Another new law that goes into effect Tuesday requires school districts to allow for the overnight storage of cannabis-based medications for students.
Senate Bill 56, built off of the prior work of Jack’s Law and Quintin’s Amendment, which expanded medication access for students, requires school districts to allow for the medicine to be stored on campus and allows for volunteers to help administer it without the fear of being fired or retaliated against.
Amber Wann was one of the main advocates for the new law; Wann’s son, Benjamin, has epilepsy and had tried prescription medications in the past but had serious side-effects.
After doing a lot of research, the family decided to try a hemp extract to see whether it would help control the seizures.
“It was very effective immediately. He did not have a seizure for five years and seven months after starting,” Wann said.
Benjamin is 20 now and currently enrolled in the Transition Bridge Program through the Douglas County School District.
In the event that he does have a seizure, the family has an emergency cannabis-based nasal spray to help. However, at first the spray wasn’t allowed in school and when it was, it had to be taken home each night and given to the nurse once again in the morning.
Quintin’s Amendment tried to change that by giving school districts the choice to opt-in. However, only two in the state did. The new law takes away the option for districts and, instead, requires compliance.
“It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for some and when it does work, we should have equal access to it,” Wann said.
Now, the family is working with the district to try to educate schools and staff about the new law. They’re also still looking for a volunteer at the school to be willing to administer the spray in the even than Benjamin has a seizure.
“We can’t force anybody to administer it but if somebody chooses to step in and say all volunteer should something happen that’s huge,” Wann said.
She’s hoping the new law will help other families in a similar position.