Colorado lawmakers look at regulating pot dispensaries
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – Lawmakers will likely be asked to back rules regulating the hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries that have popped up around Colorado, rather than trying to get rid of them.
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, plans to introduce a bill next week that would require criminal background checks for people selling medical marijuana, along with regular inspections and audits of the businesses. The details are still being worked out, but Massey and the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, say they would also like to convert dispensaries into clinics. Clinics typically have doctors and nutritionists on hand to treat patients, and Romer said many dispensaries could still decide to close rather than convert.
Massey had considered limiting the number of people medical marijuana suppliers serve to five or 10, which would have shut down dispensaries that many medical marijuana users have come to depend on. With the numbers of registered users growing, Massey said he wanted to make sure people who need the drug are able to have access to it.
Demand is growing so fast for medical marijuana cards that officials aren’t sure how many people now have them. At least 17,000 do, but another 20,000 or so have applied and are waiting for approval. At the current rate, analysts expect 75,000 people to apply in the next fiscal year. Lawmakers are concerned that some of the growth is coming from recreational users who have gotten a doctor’s permission to use the drug.
Massey’s approach is opposed by Attorney General John Suthers, a fellow Republican, who fears passing any regulation of dispensaries will legitimize them. He said voters didn’t sanction the commercial growth and sale of marijuana when they passed Amendment 20 in 2000.
Amendment 20 allows people who suffer from severe pain and debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV and multiple sclerosis, to use marijuana in private once they get a doctor’s note and register with the state, paying a $90 fee and receiving a card.
The law doesn’t address how patients obtain their marijuana and it doesn’t mention dispensaries, which have grown since the Obama administration said it wouldn’t target medical marijuana users in states that allowed it.
Suthers said lawmakers should leave dispensaries alone and voters could pass another measure to get rid of them later.
Massey said lawmakers have to deal with the situation as it is now, as well as make sure Amendment 20 is respected.
“The status quo is not good for us at this point,” he said.
Romer said it was time to “stop the 30-year war on drugs and have commonsense ground rules.”
On Friday, the full Senate is expected to vote on another proposal aimed at preventing recreational marijuana users from getting permission to become legal users of medical marijuana.
The measure (Senate Bill 109) would require doctors to give medical marijuana patients a full exam and provide follow-up care. The bill would also bar doctors from setting up shop in dispensaries.
People who are convicted of a crime would also lose their medical marijuana cards, which must be renewed annually.
Romer believes that as many as a third of the current users would be unable to get their cards renewed under the proposed new rules.
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At the onset of a special legislative session designed to address the extraordinary and ever-worsening devastation wrought by COVID-19 in Colorado, many elected Republicans chose to go maskless Monday inside the Capitol.