Friday, March 5, 2010

Vote on medical marijuana bill delayed to next week

DENVER - After hours of testimony from people on both sides of the
medical marijuana issue, lawmakers decided to delay a vote on a bill
that would create new regulations on Colorado's dispensaries until next
week.
Advertisement

More than 80 people signed up to testify before the House Judiciary
Committee on Thursday.

"The looseness and the lack of regulation has given us a defacto
legalization of marijuana. That's not what the voters approved. That's
not where we need to be as the State of Colorado," Rep. Ken Summers
(R-Lakewood) said.

Summers is one of the bill's sponsors. It creates a state medical
marijuana licensing authority that could restrict the number and
location of dispensaries.

Dispensary owner Josh Stanley agrees that regulation is needed.

"We believe those need to be in place, but they need to be responsible
as not to restrict patient access and crush the viability of a very
working dispensary model," Stanley said.

Patients say that is exactly what the bill is - too restrictive.

"The cost associated with these licensing fees is going to be handed
directly to the patients. Legislation is needed, but it should not
hinder the safe, convenient and affordable access to licensed medical
marijuana patients," Dan Pope with Sensible Colorado said.

Many law enforcement agencies and representatives, including Attorney
General John Suthers, oppose the bill. They say it wrongly legitimizes
dispensaries.

Suthers testified before the committee saying he believes the bill is
unconstitutional.

"To embrace commercial dispensaries or clinics as a means of
distributing marijuana would go far beyond the intent of the voters," he
said. (Click here to read Suthers' entire statement.)

Adams County District Attorney Don Quick agrees, saying voters did not
approve dispensaries when they passed Amendment 20 in 2000.

"I don't think constitutionally that dispensaries are authorized. The
voters back in 2000 said you can either grow it yourself or have a
primary care giver grow it for you and that caregiver has substantial
responsibility for this patient. So how is that consistent with having
the dispensaries as described today with hundreds of patients where they
do nothing but walk in and get their marijuana and pay their money and
leave. That's not a primary care giver," Quick said. "What we have now
is a lot of abuse by doctors and people going and getting cards. It
takes more time to get a fishing license now. You get asked more
questions on a fishing license than you do getting your medical
marijuana card."

Also in the crowd was Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates.

Jim Billings, with the Pueblo Police Department, was there to speak on
behalf of all law enforcement. He told 9NEWS he is against the growth of
dispensaries. He says he is afraid what happened in California will
happen in Colorado. He says dispensaries in California have created an
increase in crime, burglaries and theft.

Opponents of the bill who still support marijuana dispensaries say the
bill limits people's constitutional rights to use the drug as medicine.

They say one provision of the revised proposal, banning pot possession
within 1,000 feet of a school, could prevent people from using medical
pot in their homes. Another would not allow them to grow their own
medical marijuana if they chose to buy it at a dispensary.

"We're pretty upset that after months of negotiations, we've reached a
point where this bill wholesale sells patients out for the interests of
dispensaries and law enforcement," said Brian Vicente, the executive
director of Sensible Colorado.

His group is preparing to ask voters to pass an alternative plan this
fall if they think lawmakers go too far.

Before the hearing began on Thursday, groups supporting the dispensaries
rallied outside the Capitol.

Dispensaries also have some problems with the proposed regulations but
have won some concessions, including the right to continue to operate as
for-profit businesses. However, they are still concerned about a rule
that would only allow them to buy 25 percent of their medical marijuana
from another shop because not every dispensary owner wants to grow their
own pot.

Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs), another sponsor of the bill,
introduced the bill on Thursday by saying there has been a lot of
compromise, and that it has been rewritten two or three times.

"We felt like we've got a good bill because everyone has felt the pain
on this," he said.

Massey and co-sponsor Sen. Chris Romer (D-Denver) want dispensaries to
mainly grow their own supply so the state can make sure that the
marijuana is indeed being used as medicine.

Massey initially sided with law enforcement and intended to limit people
to growing marijuana for just a handful of people, a move that would
have shut down dispensaries. But he said he changed his mind because he
didn't think that would pass and because he didn't think it's feasible
for the growing number of medical marijuana patients to grow their own.

He said that number could hit 100,000 by the time lawmakers adjourn in
May.

"It didn't make sense to have 100,000 people growing in their own
basement," he said.

If regulations are passed, the bill currently calls for a yearlong
moratorium on new dispensaries to give time for state officials to
implement the new regulatory system. All dispensaries, old and new,
would then have to get state and local licenses. Legislative analysts
expect 1,100 dispensaries to apply.

Voters could also vote to ban them in their municipality, but such bans
could only be proposed once every four years.

At the start of the hearing, Matt Cook with the Colorado Department of
Revenue, took questions from the committee about licensing of
dispensaries.

Cook told the committee it is up to individual cities to decide how many
licenses can be given in a certain area.

After Cook, an Iraq War veteran, Kevin Grimsinger, testified. He uses
medical marijuana and he says it helped him with his post traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). He says the bill would put too many restrictions
on patients.

"Taking a patient's right to medicate in a secure, well-established
business is backwards. It takes away from the patient that needs help to
medicate because of various physical disabilities. It takes away from
the patient who lives in federal housing where using medicine on-site is
against their lease," Grimsinger said.

The head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment,
Dr. Ned Cologne, was also at the hearing to discuss the safety and
regulation of medical marijuana food products.

Because the hearing on House Bill 1284 was so crowded, the chair of the
committee is limiting testimony to three minutes per person.

The House Judiciary Committee will take up the bill again next week. It
is expected to pass a vote there and then the bill will move on to
appropriations.