Colorado senator seeks crackdown on medical marijuana industry
November 7, 2009
DENVER – State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, whose district includes Glenwood Springs and Rifle, said Friday he plans to introduce legislation next session to regulate the rapidly expanding medical marijuana industry in Colorado.
“What we’ve effectively got now is de facto decriminalization of marijuana,” White stated in a press release. “That is not what the people of this state voted for.”
Colorado voters in November 2000 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical use of marijuana to treat eight specific conditions. White noted that the General Assembly, however, never enacted rules governing consumption or distribution of the drug after the amendment’s passage.
Recently, some local governments have been trying to get a handle on the industry as largely unregulated marijuana dispensaries have popped up across the state, including several in Glenwood Springs and throughout the region from Aspen to Rifle.
White proposes to take the business out of the hands of entrepreneurial “caregivers,” as they are known, and establish a state monopoly to grow and distribute marijuana. That will help keep black market marijuana out of the supply chain, he said.
White’s bill would also crack down on illicit distribution of marijuana to unqualified users by requiring any prescription for the substance to be filled by a licensed pharmacist.
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One local dispensary operator, Jesse Lafayette of Peaceful Warrior Medical Marijuana on Sixth Street in Glenwood Springs, said that would essentially put him and others like him out of business.
Lafayette said White’s proposal amounts to a “government takeover,” and only serves to perpetrate the war on drugs.
“It seems to me like they’re still fighting marijuana and continuing this war on drugs, when what we really need from our elected officials is more advocacy for marijuana and more awareness,” Lafayette said.
“This would basically put me out of business, because I grow my marijuana for my patients,” he added. “Plus, you don’t know what is going into the plants if the state grows it. My whole intent is to provide something organic and healthy that will benefit my patients.
A state-run distribution system would also remove the intimacy between the grower, caregiver and patient, he said.
White counters, however, that there needs to be more control over medical marijuana.
“We don’t allow unlicensed people to simply open up a shop and sell controlled substances like Valium or Oxycontin – that’s why they call them ‘controlled substances,'” said White. “So, why are we allowing that to happen with medical marijuana?”
White said the state’s failure to regulate the industry has given rise to concerns that illicit drug cartels are using dispensaries as “quasi-legal” outlets for black market marijuana.
“There are also concerns that the drug is being handed out liberally to many who don’t really qualify,” White said.
He noted that, in 2007, fewer than 2,000 people held medical marijuana cards. “That number has now grown to around 13,000, with some 600 new applications coming in every day,” he said.
“If the state doesn’t take some action to put an end to this ‘wild west’ environment, Colorado is going to become the global retail headquarters for international drug cartels. That is simply not responsible,” White added.
Lafayette said he’s seen no evidence that international cartels are becoming involved, at least as far as he’s concerned.
“I’ve not been having any pressure at my store from cartels,” he said. “If it were happening, I’d be bombarded by people to buy from someone else.
“Ultimately, more awareness will take the drug lords out of it,” he added. “It seems like Sen. White wants to put his energy into fighting marijuana and continuing the war on drugs, instead of putting his energy into to making this all legitimate.”
White said his plan would also help the state deal with an estimated $1 billion budget gap over the next few years.
Under his plan, revenue from the sale of marijuana would initially be split equally between a “rainy day fund” and a special fund for colleges and universities.
After the “rainy day fund” reached $1 billion, the revenue would be directed entirely to higher education.
“The legislature has an obligation to honor the will of the voters and make this work,” White acknowledged. “I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues across party lines next year to make that happen.”
The State Legislature convenes its next session in January 2010.