Medical Pot “Regulation”–Solution in Search of a Problem?

It’s the handwringing topic du jour, as the Denver Post reports:

One bill would require medical-marijuana dispensaries to provide other health services, limit where they can operate and require additional screenings of younger patients.

Another would put the state in the pot-growing business and require dispensaries to have licensed pharmacists on staff…

The fight will pit those who favor regulating the estimated 100-plus dispensaries now operating in Colorado against those who hope to limit the number of patients one provider can serve.

The latter limitation on providers – called caregivers – is common to most states with medical-marijuana laws and would wipe out or seriously impact Colorado’s dispensaries.

Facing a flood of new medical-pot buyers and sellers that has alarmed some, state Sen. Chris Romer said he is optimistic the murky rules give lawmakers a chance to craft a new model for the rest of the country…

Romer envisions wellness centers that provide some combination of pot, physical therapy, yoga, massage, acupuncture or other similar services. He’s taking aim at college-age users by requiring those 25 or younger to submit medical records to a state review board. And he hopes additional regulations – like licensing, banning felons from selling and advertising limitations – will calm apprehension about dispensaries cropping up in new communities.

State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, wants the state Agriculture Department and university researchers to exclusively grow pot in Colorado and to put pharmacists in charge of dispensing marijuana.

Our view: there are two parts of this issue–the legitimate public health and law enforcement interest in clarifying the regulations governing the state’s constitutionally-inviolate “medical” marijuana law, and the underlying election-year politics of all this. As is so often the case, the real danger here is the latter tainting the former.

The legitimate public health and safety concerns are what we think Sen. Chris Romer is driving at, although he upset a fair of people, and got a cool reception from many fellow Democrats, by being the first lawmaker to jump up for new legislation to get the “medical marijuana problem” under control. There are a large number of public officials in the state who want to err on the permissive side when it comes to medical marijuana (since our voter-approved law is written most permissively). We submit that public attitudes toward marijuana in general are changing, and more people question the criminalization of marijuana compared to, say, free-flowing alcohol that kills thousands every year than ever before.

That said, nobody likes to see lawful programs abused, so getting a handle on the flood of otherwise-healthy twentysomethings who suddenly develop “chronic pain” doesn’t sound unreasonable. Whatever legislators do to regulate perceived excesses this can’t contravene the permissive language of Amendment 20, however. The laissez faire system we have, like it or not, is substantially what the voters wanted.

Which brings us to the politics: we would caution both liberals and conservatives to limit the scope of legislation to regulate medical pot next session. We don’t think the voters consider the budding (pardon the pun) medical pot dispensary industry to be a problem, and where local governments do they are enacting moratoriums and zoning regulations of their own. Moreover, the marijuana dispensary industry represents a huge new potential revenue source for the state and local governments–billions in new economic activity over the next few years, and (yes, let’s be honest) previously black market activity brought into the light of day.

So instead of what feels like a coordinated effort to stoke ‘moral panic’ that we just don’t think the voting public will buy into, and could even backfire as attitudes and demographics in the state change, why not start thinking about a tax on medical marijuana sales at the gaming and tobacco level to refer for a vote? We’re serious about this: the state is facing a budget shortfall of billions of dollars over the next few years, the cuts that are coming will harm the public good much more than your corner medical pot shop. How many of those painful cuts could we prevent by taxing the holy bejeezus out of marijuana dispensaries, make Doug Bruce blush with how much we tax them, cool by us–instead of running them off?


9 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Jailing people for marijuana makes no sense whatsoever.

    The failed war on drugs has resulted in Mexico having in pratice a civl war. The army fights the cartels in at least 5 states.  

  2. ardy39 says:

    State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, wants the state Agriculture Department and university researchers to exclusively grow pot in Colorado…

    He wants a government take-over of the most lucrative cash crop that could be grown in Colorado?

    Why do Republicans like him hate entrepreneurs?

    • Car 31 says:

      Al White’s bill doesn’t stand a chance but he is making the point that voters didn’t approve the dispensary business model. They approved medical marijuana for a specific population.

      In today’s free for all the intent of Amendment 20 isn’t being upheld, so Rep. White proposed managing distribution of pot to patients in a way that makes more sense than the current environment.

      • CaninesCanines says:

        The state would need to be growing and harvesting scores and scores of marijuana plants per day to supply the numbers of patients there are — or even if the number was scaled back, half that amount. Mandatory minimum sentences — under federal sentencing guidelines — kick in at around 100 plants. Unless White could secure a waiver from the federal government, the state would be operating a criminal conspiracy. Doesn’t sound too well thought out to me.

      • Whiskey Lima JulietWhiskey Lima Juliet says:

        OK, one more time.  We have over 65,000 patients in Colorado.  Yes, 65,000.  The state is 4 to 6 months behind in issuing cards. (400 – 600 people a day = 15,000 people per month.  In July we had over 12,000 patients.  Do the math) However, even without a card, the doctor recommendation and proof you filed for a card, entitles you to receive MMJ.

        Without a dispensary business how do you take care of 65,000 patients?  Harborside in California has about 35,000 patients.  They sell 100 pounds of MMJ A DAY!!!  So, with those stats, figure we need to sell almost 150 lbs of MMJ a day here in Colorado.  Give or take a few pounds.

        Without a dispensary business model you will be insuring that the Black Market will grow large and fat!  The dispensaries are not the enemy.  We are here to fulfill a need.  Yes, some are better than others.  But that is a fact in any industry.  

        We are for regulation, but the fight will be about serving the growing number of patients.  And for the final time, the AVERAGE AGE OF PATIENTS IS 42, NOT 20!!!

        BTW, know your past.  This battle is following the same lines as prohibition. In todays Gazette

        Abuse of medicinal drug laws did not start with marijuana



        Seemingly healthy young men are asking for intoxicating pain medication with a wink, a nod and suspiciously vague symptoms. Sympathetic physicians are making good money writing them prescriptions. New dispensaries are springing up all over Colorado Springs to capitalize on the legal gray area. Local officials and police are outraged.

        The city promises a crackdown.

        The brouhaha makes headlines in ’09.


  3. 420Jan says:

    I recently wrote the following for one of the many online Colorado MMJ discussion groups that has been discussing the latest court ruling and blindside by the Colorado Health Department.

    I am one of those that is adamantly against taxing MMJ (medical marijuana). If people want to make money off pot than tax and sell it for recreational purposes. I can get all the prescriptions I want for morphine, methadone, etc and do not have to pay taxes on it. However, due to the side effects of those “legal” drugs I am not able to use them. It doesn’t matter what schedule it falls under you still cannot get MMJ or “legal” pain killers without a doctors written note.

    I would love to see what percentage of registered patients are on SSI, SSDI (myself) and any other low income there are. Patients are already paying an arm and a leg to get their license and for their medicine that they legally cannot get without a doctors recommendation.

    Clinics/dispensaries that claim they are in it for the patient and charge patients over $200 to get a referral for their license, learn how to grow etc are total rip offs and nothing more. Doctors that charge more than a normal office visit and spend maybe five minutes to “review” a patients record should be fined, talk about unethical. These people take advantage of real patients with real need and some of them are putting real patients in jeopardy by their abuse of the system.

    Why isn’t anyone in Colorado attempting to do what New Mexico, Rhode Island and now the Maine voters have all done, get a measure on the ballot to create state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries to assist in the distribution of marijuana to qualified patients and expand the list of qualifying conditions. I think we need to take it one step further and get the fee reduced for everyone and waive the fee altogether for low-income and severely ill patients.

    I don’t see how we can keep the legislature out of this mess unless we get a measure on the ballot. I keep hearing people ask how can I help, what can I do, including myself, but I never hear anyone say hey, this is what we can do so let’s do it. Patients are ready to act, we just need the guidance.

    My husband is listed as my caregiver. Under the courts ruling he qualifies to be my caregiver but there is one big problem, he does not know much about growing MMJ and doesn’t know the difference between the different strains and which work best for me. Without the patients collective where we get my MMJ we would be lost out on the streets searching for my medicine.

    Where does the court expect us to find a caregiver that does what they say they should and still grow or provide quality, safe, MMJ? It is unrealistic.

    Marijuana is a schedule 1 drug and in Colorado you need a doctors recommendation to use it. If people want it to call it and treat it as a herbal remedy than it has to be truly legal for all people and not just as MMJ.

    • CaninesCanines says:

      I’m not sure anyone in the state agriculture department knows all that much about growing marijuana; how different strains are useful for different illnesses; and how to conduct the research and development to improve strains. That’s why it’s good to have a number of smaller-scale growers working on it–people who are already familiar with cannabis–rather than one or two people that the state contracts out to, like in New Mexico…which, by the way, hasn’t been able to grow enough to keep up with demand.

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