Medical marijuana bill changes during negotiations
DENVER – Lawmakers who want to regulate the state’s growing medical marijuana industry are now willing to let dispensaries advertise and operate for profit, but they want to make sure the state can keep tabs on the source of their products.
The overhauled regulations, up for their first vote at the Capitol on Thursday, were worked out in negotiations with dispensaries and patient advocates after the bill was introduced a month ago by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver.
The latest compromise, however, hasn’t satisfied everyone.
Patient groups believe the bill goes too far in limiting the rights of patients. Patients would give up their right to grow their own marijuana if they purchase pot at a dispensary, and no one could possess medical marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school or a daycare center.
Brian Vicente, the executive director of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana patients’ group, said that could stop people from using medical marijuana in their own homes.
“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,” he said.
His group is preparing to ask voters to pass an alternative plan this fall if they think lawmakers go too far.
Dispensaries fought back an attempt to require that they operate as non-profits. But they’re 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.
Nevertheless, dispensaries welcome a chance to be regulated and prevent large household grows like the one busted by federal drug agents in Highlands Ranch recently, said Matt Brown, a medical marijuana patient and leader of a coalition of about 150 dispensaries and over 1,000 patients.
The legitimacy that comes from regulation is exactly why the bill is strongly opposed by those in law enforcement, including Attorney General John Suthers.
Ted Tow, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, said voters only intended for there to be small scale grows of marijuana by individuals or their care givers, not businesses, when they passed the medical marijuana law in 2000.
“It’s a significant step toward decriminalization,” Tow said.
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.
The latest version of the bill will likely be changed during its hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
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.
Voters could also vote to ban them in their municipality, but such bans could only be proposed once every four years.
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