Skip to main content

Feature: Colorado Hearing Monday on Plan to Limit Dispensaries Expected to Draw Loud Opposition

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #594)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Update: Medical marijuana supporters WON -- the proposal was defeated.

On Monday, the Colorado Board of Health will hold a key public hearing on a controversial proposal to impose restrictions on the state's medical marijuana providers. The board is likely to get an angry earful from patients and providers worried that the restrictions will effectively shutter the state's burgeoning dispensaries and make it more difficult for patients to obtain their medicine.

sign of the times
Colorado authorities tried the same thing five years ago, but a state judge slapped them down for failing to hold any hearings. They are also somewhat hamstrung because the measure passed as a constitutional amendment, making any alteration of it constitutionally suspect.

The hearing comes as participation in Colorado's medical marijuana program has gone into overdrive. The number of registered patients is rapidly approaching 10,000, up from only 1,700 a few years ago. The number of physicians making medical marijuana recommendations is nearing 600. The number of dispensaries in the state has undergone a jump in recent months, and is now approaching 40.

If approved, the draft proposal from the Department of Public Health and Environment would put a real crimp in the Colorado medical marijuana boom. Two provisions of the proposal that are earning the most denunciations from patients and providers: One would tighten the definition of who qualifies as a licensed caregiver; the other would limit the number of patients a caregiver can provide for to five. There is currently no limit on the number of patients for whom a caregiver can grow or otherwise provide.

"There are two major problems with the proposal," said Denver attorney Warren Edson, one of the coauthors of the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana in the state. "The biggest problem is their redefinition to include the requirement that caregivers provide other services. The second biggest problem is the attempt to regulate a five patient limit."

"The proposed caregiver limit is a solution in search of a problem," said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), which while concentrating on recreational use, also supports the state's existing medical marijuana program. "It would actually create several problems for the thousands of Coloradans whose doctors recommended they use marijuana to treat their debilitating conditions. Imagine walking into a pharmacy to pick up the medicine your doctor recommended, only to be turned away because it has already helped five people," he said.

"As if such a patient limit isn't ridiculous enough, these state bureaucrats have failed to provide even a single justification for why it's necessary," Tvert continued. "After all, pharmacies distribute countless medications that are potentially dangerous and frequently abused, whereas medical marijuana dispensaries distribute a substance less toxic and less addictive than beer."

The Department of Public Health and Environment indeed steadfastly refused to comment on its proposals. "The department's position will be outlined at a public hearing on July 20," was all it would say, which is a bit odd since the department's position is already outlined in the draft proposal set to be slammed on Monday.

Denver attorney Robert Correy has crafted an alternate to the department proposal (see it at the proposal link above), and is warning the board it would be wise to adopt his and not the department's. "My proposal would guard caregivers' anonymity, and was prompted by the murder of caregiver Ken Gorman," he said. "It would be much better for caregivers and patients, and it is much more consistent with the constitution than the health department proposal."

Adopting the health department proposal would amount to amending the constitution, said Correy. "While the Health Board can pretty much vote independent of what the public wants, it can't amend the constitution through regulation, which is what this proposal would do. The changes are radical and diametrically opposed to the constitutional definitions of caregivers and patients' rights," he argued.

The Monday hearing was originally set for March, but officials rescheduled it when it became apparent that the controversial proposals would draw a huge number of people wanting to offer public comments on it. Now, it has been relocated to Denver college campus conference room that can fit 500 people, but medical marijuana supporters say that may not be enough.

One person who will be there is Jim Bent, co-owner of the Patients Choice dispensary on South Broadway in Denver, which provides for some 300 patients. "I'll be handing out bottled water and snacks to help people stay there through the day so the board can see the level of support the current approach has," he said.

"If those proposed rules went into effect, I would have to lay off employees," said Bent, "We wouldn't be able to provide the services we currently do," which currently include massage therapy, music therapy, acupuncture, and nutrition classes. "With so many patients, we can get a discount rate, but if we were only taking care of five people, as the proposal recommends, we couldn't afford to do that."

Patients Choice is a shining example of the wave of dispensaries that have opened in Colorado since the Obama administration made it clear that it was not going to sic the DEA on medical marijuana providers operating in accord with state laws. More than 30 dispensaries have opened this year, transforming the face of medical marijuana in the Rocky Mountain state.

"When Obama said he would leave this alone, we had a shift from people in the black market trying to squeeze over," said Edson. "But now it is business people running real businesses. Thanks to Obama and the poor state of the rest of the economy, this is really snowballing. We added 1,200 patients and four big dispensaries in May alone."

Patients and providers are of the opinion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, said Edson. "We have a system that is working, and I think the Board of Health is going to find out Monday that there will be a thousand people there telling them not to approve those changes," he said.

That would be a clear sign of the importance of the existing program for patients and providers, he said. "The board has never had more than a dozen people at its hearings for anything, but when they had 200 people show up for the pre-hearing earlier this year, that was a loud signal. Now, they've rescheduled in a room that holds 500, and that isn't going to be enough. They are supposed to go by public opinion, and public opinion will be incredibly lopsided telling them not to adopt these changes," Edson warned.

If, in the face of the expected near universal condemnation of the proposal, the Health Board members adopt it, Robert Correy will be waiting for them. "I will be ready to serve them with the lawsuit in person right after the vote," he vowed. "We'll be in court Tuesday morning before the same judge who slapped them down when they tried this in 2004."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


NorCalMedicalC… (not verified)

Medical cannabis can produce more hemp wood products jobs than trees can by utilizing leftover stems after bud harvest if allowed to grow more plants for more purposes than medical. They think the competition from medical cannabis for lumber jobs will hurt the their Wall St stocks in tree/forest based timber,logging,lumber,and holding companies. However friendly competition from medical cannabis people using leftover stems for hemp wood and lumber products is good for America and the whole planet as more jobs and happier lives are the result of sensible prosperity. When the frauds are physically removed from power their fraudulent prohibition will be removed with them and people can get back to happiness and back to work. Peace and Love from James. P.S. Its always been secretly less about prohibiting cannabis as it is prohibiting cannabis many other uses for the purpose keeping the masses less independent. Resource deprivation by prohibition just as alcohol was the same elitist,industrial espionage,fraudulent scam by fraudulent government leaders.

Fri, 07/17/2009 - 6:28pm Permalink
Brian Kerr (not verified)

Prohibitionists are just stupid fascist garbage.

Cannabis can not hurt you, for god sakes it is like a vitamin, it boosts your endocannabinoid system and fights cancer.

Fri, 07/17/2009 - 7:30pm Permalink
Anon (not verified)

If Colorado wants to improve things for the state, it will allow dispensaries similar to what is happening in California. This is the first step to the up-and-coming legal cannabis boom just waiting to happen. I don't think it's a matter of "if"; but rather it has become a matter of "when and where." Some places will miss the opportunity altogether, while others will be the fresh business starts of tomorrow. Businesses that can survive this economy are happy to operate within state law, act clinical and to maintain a professional business. To limit the Colorado dispensary or even ban it, is not moving forward to an emerging new market. I hope Colorado is smart and allows dispensaries to operate like they do in California. This would be a good place for Colorado to start.

Go Colorado! Make your state a more valuable place to spend money! And make your state compassionate to the cannabis patient.

Fri, 07/17/2009 - 10:47pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is David Schneider and I reside at 590 S. Clay St., Denver Colorado. The late Ken Gorman was one of my neighbors. I used to smoke pot when it was a felony here and have come to understand that it is useful Medicine, an ancient one at that.

Understand this: Colorado has always been a backwards state with 19th century thinking for the dumb Colorado hicks still rule here. Alcohol has always been king in this state however, the state seeks to allow steroids, crack, heroin, speed, and cocaine fro it allows people to be productive and mindlessly compliant.

If you think you're going to get any humanity from an Authority Figure in any of societies institutions in Colorado, dream on, you're fantisizing.

Mon, 07/20/2009 - 3:06pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.