Health board nixes change to Colorado pot use
July 21, 2009
DENVER – Colorado’s state health board has rejected a move to limit medical marijuana suppliers to helping only five patients at a time, allowing dispensaries to continue to thrive in Colorado.
The board voted 6-3 Monday night to defeat the proposal by the state health department. The roughly 100 people still left in the hearing room after about 12 hours of testimony and deliberations applauded and yelled in support.
Board member Kindra Mulch of Burlington then tried to get the board to consider another limit, suggesting 50 patients instead of five, because she said Colorado voters never intended there to be large-scale businesses providing marijuana to patients. But after hearing from many of the 350 people who signed up to oppose the five-person limit, no other board members were willing to start negotiating another number.
The state’s chief medical officer, Ned Calonge, said he didn’t know if the department would try to propose another limit on how many patients could be served by a supplier. He had warned the board that the state’s medical marijuana program would “continue to grow out of control” without more restrictive rules, and said he lacked the resources to keep up.
Opponents of the five-person limit argued the board didn’t have a right to meddle in the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000. The amendment made Colorado one of 13 states that allow medical marijuana.
They also said the limit would make it harder to find legal supplies of the drug and make it harder for dispensaries to survive and continue offering a range of marijuana varieties to treat different diseases.
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Dispensary owners and their employees were among the opponents. Other critics included a group of veterans who said marijuana helped them treat problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and a grandmother from the western Colorado town of Olathe who grows her own marijuana “like tomatoes” on her farm.
The grandmother, 68-year-old Berta Jameson, is proud that her marijuana, which she uses to treat her glaucoma and arthritis, is grown outside without special lights or chemicals. She said the state should oversee dispensaries to make sure their plants, pot cookies and teas are safe and healthy, rather than limiting suppliers to serving five people at a time.
But Calonge warned against spending more to regulate medical marijuana at a time when the state may have to make cuts to other public health programs because of the recession.
Calonge, police officers and prosecutors also said the current system is susceptible to fraud and causes confusion over who can legally grow marijuana.
The board did adopt another recommendation aimed at fighting fraud. Starting Aug. 30, all patients will have to get their signatures notarized on applications for the medical marijuana registry.
Under the law, patients with certain conditions, including HIV, muscle spasms and chronic pain, can use medical marijuana as long as they get a doctor’s approval and register with the state. The law permits patients or their designated caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants or possess two ounces of usable marijuana.
The law doesn’t address dispensaries, businesses that have sprouted in Colorado to serve patients. Backers of the amendment say the dispensaries didn’t exist when the law was passed.
Calonge said the amendment defines a caregiver as a person, and he didn’t think a dispensary should be considered a caregiver under the law.
There are 9,112 people registered to use medical marijuana in Colorado, up 2,000 just in the last month. Ron Hyman, the state health department registrar who oversees the medical marijuana registry, predicted that at that rate, 15,000 people will be signed up by the end of the year. He credited the growth to the confidentiality of Colorado’s registry and to the Obama administration’s announcement that it would no longer raid medical marijuana facilities.