Medical Marijuana Bill Will Shut Down Dispensaries

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Sen. Romer says bill would cut number of pot clinics
By Tim Hoover
The Denver Post
Dec. 8, 2009

A state senator says his plan to regulate the budding medical marijuana industry could drive about half of the dispensaries in Colorado out of business.

It would replace the existing system with one based more on medicine and treatment in keeping with the intent voters had when they approved Amendment 20 in 2000, said Sen. Chris Romer.

"What we have to do is force this whole conversation back into a medical model," said Romer, D-Denver.

The amendment allowed people with certain "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana if a doctor said they could benefit from it. The amendment created a confidential statewide registry for patients but did not set out precisely how the system of "caregivers" would be set up.

As a result, dispensaries have cropped up across the state, selling medical marijuana and foods with cannabis with little or no regulation or zoning.

Romer said he expects to file his legislation this week.

The bill would allow the state to license medical marijuana clinics and growers after they have been licensed by local jurisdictions such as cities and counties. Romer compared the process to getting a liquor license but said that clinics and growers essentially would have to prove they would have no detrimental effects on the community.

He said owners and managers of clinics would have to undergo background checks.

Meanwhile, the bill would allow chiropractors and registered nurses to sell medical marijuana to 20 percent of their patients without getting a license. And it would allow physical therapists and optometrists to provide 20 patients with medical marijuana without clinic licenses.

Local communities also could ask voters to impose a tax of up to 10 percent of the purchase price on medical marijuana in addition to existing sales taxes.

Romer said the bill would allow the Department of Public Health and Environment to enact stricter rules on the issuance of medical marijuana cards to patients.

The bill would prohibit doctors from getting paid by medical marijuana clinics or caregivers, and it would expressly allow local governments to impose zoning laws on clinics.

Patients under 21, with the exception of veterans, would have to get approval for medical marijuana from a special board.

Romer said his bill could "close down as much as 50 percent of the existing retail structure" for medical marijuana.

Matt Brown, executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, which represents dispensaries, said the group does not support the bill in its current form.

Although the industry supports greater regulation, Brown said, the bill essentially would give law enforcement unfettered access to detailed information about clinics and growers and their operations.

"It just has an unnecessarily high abuse potential," he said.

Law enforcement officials also are taking a wary look at Romer's proposal.

Ted Tow, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council, said the organization supported Romer's efforts to rein in problems with the existing system such as doctors signing off on medical marijuana cards with a wink.

But he said district attorneys could not take a position on any legislation until they have fully reviewed it.

Denver Channel 9 News
Dec. 8, 2009

State lawmaker unveils plan to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries

DENVER - State Senator Chris Romer unveiled his proposal to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado.

Romer wants to create a medical marijuana licensing authority, which grants, refuses and renews licenses.

Among other items in the bill, Senator Romer wants a board to decide whether patients under 21 years old, excluding military veterans, qualify for medical marijuana.

"The kids who want to use it recreationally do not belong in the medical system," Romer said.

Brian Vicente from Sensible Colorado says, "He's ignoring the fact that people under 21 do get sick, and if they do, their doctor should have the right and ability to prescribe medical marijuana."

Dispensary owner Brian Willey said, "We do have a lot of legitimate under 21 people who have Crohn's Disease, or cancer. To subject them to a review board I think is kind of excessive."

Under Romer's plan, patients will only be able to change their primary caregiver up to four times a year.

A more thorough medical marijuana physical will be required, and doctors will not be allowed to get paid by dispensaries.

"Right now the medical model is that basically the dispensaries are paying the doctors to write scripts, and that's just terrible. We don't do that anywhere else in the medical world, where you're incentivized to write a prescription for a controlled substance," Romer said.

Also under Romer's proposal, registered primary caregivers, like licensed chiropractors and acupuncturists, will be allowed to treat up to a quarter of their annual patients with medical marijuana without having a license. But those businesses will not be allowed to get a grower's license.

Romer's bill will be heard by the legislature when they meet next month. Depending on the outcome, it could be signed into law by February.