Call for marijuana rules divides pot industry
October 20, 2009
DENVER – Does Colorado need tighter rules on medical marijuana? Even the state’s booming pot industry isn’t sure.
On Monday, after the U.S. Department of Justice loosened guidelines on federally prosecuting medical marijuana, state Attorney General John Suthers said regulations are needed to deal with the “rapid proliferation” of state marijuana dispensaries, now thought to number about 100.
“This legal vacuum also has left Colorado’s towns and cities to grapple with the state’s burgeoning marijuana trade,” Suthers wrote.
But the industry itself is unsure it needs regulation. Some say state rules would make clear that cities may not ban dispensaries, and would make it easier for growers to open shops. Others want the legislature to butt out, fearing officials will try to restrict marijuana use already approved by voters in a 2000 referendum.
Marijuana advocates who favor a state law say it would prevent a hodgepodge of local rules.
“It would be nice if we could get a definition of what a dispensary is and how it should work,” said Laura Kriho, spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Cannabis Therapy Institute. “The way it’s going now, we’re going to have a patchwork of ordinances.”
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Several towns have ordered zoning moratoriums on dispensaries while they try to figure out how to regulate them. State law is silent on how far cities can go to limit medical marijuana, and the state department of health last summer declined to clamp down on how many patients a dispensary can serve.
The result has been a confusing free-for-all as dispensaries try to navigate local zoning laws.
Timothy Tipton, owner of four dispensaries under the name Rocky Mountain Caregivers Cooperative, worries that state officials simply want to restrict access for patients in need.
“These are people in the worst of the worst health. And they’re being continuously prodded by law enforcement,” said Tipton, whose dispensaries serve 750 people.
Law enforcement says the lack of state regulation leaves officers confused on how to tell the difference between legal medical marijuana operations and illegal drug dealers.
As a result, officers “find it almost impossible” to shut down illegal growers , said Donald Christensen, executive director of the Littleton-based County Sheriffs of Colorado.
Meanwhile, the marijuana industry is preparing a bill of its own – a first-in-the-nation “Patient’s Bill of Rights” for marijuana users. Currently, medical marijuana users are protected from prosecution but not other discrimination.
Jason Lauve, a medical marijuana patient, was acquitted on drug charges for having marijuana, then lost his job and is being evicted from his apartment. He agrees on the need for guidelines and regulation but hopes lawmakers would also agree to additional legal protections for patients.