Friday, December 18, 2009

Colorado begins to see Medical marijauna rise in major cities

By Jessica Fender
The Denver Post

Posted: 12/18/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
Updated: 12/18/2009 01:51:24 AM MST

State leaders have unveiled figures showing a large portion of
medical-marijuana recommendations are written by doctors who are barred
from writing other prescriptions.

As of mid-August, three quarters of pot recommendations came from 15
doctors, half of whom operated on restricted licenses, a spokesman for
Gov. Bill Ritter said. The number of medical- marijuana patients has
tripled since that time to about 30,000 statewide, according to health
department figures.

More strictly defining the relationship between physicians and their
cannabis-seeking patients has emerged as the one patch of common ground
in the battle over medical marijuana that will be waged in the 2010
legislative session.

Doctors would have to perform physical examinations, provide follow-up
consultation and would have to possess a valid, unrestricted medical
license, in a proposal Ritter has circulated.

But the governor has not yet said whether he favors the storefront pot
dispensary model or limiting pot providers to a handful of patients, the
most heated of the medical-marijuana debates.

"We're working with lawmakers and law enforcement on a plan to respect
the will of the voters, provide some guidelines on how those
legitimately entitled to medical marijuana obtain it, and rein in
serious abuses," Ritter spokesman George Merritt said.

Even in the face of mounting controversy — the anecdotal spikes in
crime, the anger over storefront dispensaries close to schools and the
concerns of businesspeople facing potentially onerous regulations —
House Speaker Terrance Carroll said he hopes the pot debate won't
distract lawmakers in 2010.

"I'm hoping we'll deal with the medical-marijuana issue efficiently,
with very little fanfare and maintain focus on issues at hand," Carroll,
D-Denver, said.

But the state's attorney general predicts "a war," and the senator
backing the single regulatory bill filed so far likens the legislation's
pro-pot backers to the ragtag but spirited band of soldiers at Valley
Forge.

Lawmakers will build from scratch regulations for a fledgling industry
while they grapple with a more than $1.5 billion budget gap and search
for ways to create jobs in Colorado, top priorities in the four-month
legislative session.

"It's going to be very time consuming," said Ted Tow, executive director
of the Colorado District Attorney's Council. "There are multiple
different approaches to fixing the problem that have to be hashed out.
The dispensaries are organizing and have money."

His group is part of a coalition of law enforcement, local government
and medical groups that have helped draft an anti-dispensary proposal,
though it is unclear whether a bill will be filed and who would support
it. The district attorneys' group has not yet decided to support the law
enforcement plan.

In the meantime, the medical-marijuana industry has become a sizable
political force by enlisting communications firms, conducting polls and
seeking assistance from big-name lobbyists and a former lawmaker.

Former Sen. Bob Hagedorn, who once chaired his chamber's health care
committee, is careful to say he's not lobbying for the newly minted
Colorado Wellness Association. To do so would violate revolving door
laws.

But he is educating his former colleagues on the topic on behalf of the
dispensary trade association and enjoys access to the Senate and House
floors, which lobbyists do not.

At least a half-dozen new medical-marijuana advocacy and trade groups
have recently hung shingles.