‘Patient’ battle to be fought in legislature

Bills controlling the sale and use of medical marijuana were filed earlier this week, but the debate remains surprisingly calm.
Sen. Chris Romer (D-Denver) and Rep. Tom Massey (R-Chaffee) are working on bills that both sides —  state officials and medical marijuana advocates — say address most of the issues.
There is one sticking point: advocates say they do not want a limit on how many patients a caregiver can grow marijuana for, and both the Colorado attorney general and the Department of Public Health and Safety just as adamantly want that restriction.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will not comment about on-going legislation, but officials issued a list of items they would like to see in the legislation.
On that list is a definition of a bona fide physician-patient relationship that includes an ongoing relationship, a complete assessment of the patient’s medical history and follow up care. Doctors cannot receive money from caregivers or dispensaries, and every doctor recommending medical marijuana must be in good standing with the state’s medical board.
“We’ve been working with the governor’s office for legal counsel on bills,” said spokesman Mark Salley. “And we are hoping that the bill defines that relationship more clearly.”
Mike Saccone, spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers, said the office would like to see a limit on how many patients a caregiver can supply with marijuana.
“Something like five or 10,” he said. “Something that would demonstrate the language in the amendment — that there is a primary caregiving relationship.”
That issue — what defines a primary caregiver — has been contentious.
During 2009, the Colorado Court of Appeals decided the term “primary caregiver,” must mean the person does more than supply marijuana to a patient.
Suthers said he was pleased with the decision.
“I was also pleased to see the assertion …that Amendment 20 ‘cries out for legislative action.’ I could not agree more,” he said. “I hope the legislature will act and create a regulatory framework that gives substance to the Court of Appeals findings.”
In the face of new legislation, medical marijuana advocates have formed to lead the fight for regulation. Sensible Colorado, Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, Colorado Patients and Providers Coalition and the Dispensary Owners Coalition all are supporting legislation that “aligns with voter sentiment.”
The groups support most of the legislation, but say they oppose the patient limits.
“This has been a roller coaster,” said Sensible Colorado Executive Director Brian Vincente. “Most of the recent bills look at regulating the doctor-patient relationship. And what it comes down to is that we really respect what they are trying to do, and we want to work with them to establish a uniform system.”
The coalition has no problem with regulating the industry, Vincente said, or even with paying taxes — because that will give dispensaries the legitimacy they need.
“We’re off to a good start,” he said. “The attempt to regulate growers is a good one — they are largely unregulated now.”
Matt Brown, executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, said the basic language in the bills is fine — but the details still need to be ironed out. And any attempt to limit patient number will be fought, he said.
“The attorney general and law enforcement really want the five patient limit,” he said. “And that’s going to be the biggest issue. The recent proposals are wolves in sheep’s clothing that would put public safety at risk and would be virtually impossible to regulate. These plans will require an army of new government regulators.”
Vincente said the cap will limit business — now one of the fastest growing industries in Denver — ability to make money selling medical marijuana.
“Thousands of people are employed by this industry,” he said. “We’re not opposed to taxing it — even at a higher rate — and we aren’t opposed to regulating it, giving it legitimacy. We’re going to oppose anything that limits that ability to make money.”

How proposed marijuana bills have been tweaked

Bills that will seek to regulate medical marijuana in Colorado are undergoing several changes, based on conversations with advocacy groups, law enforcement and public health officials.
Current drafts provide new rules for issuing registry identification cards, documentation for doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and sanctions for doctors who violate the bill.
The basic provisions are:
  • Doctors who certify that patients can use medical marijuana should keep separate record-keeping systems for those patients. Doctors shall not receive remuneration or offer it to a primary caregiver, distributor or any other provider of medical marijuana.
  • Individuals permitted to use marijuana should keep a registry identification card when possessing a usable form of marijuana.
  • Patients younger than 21 must be reviewed by marijuana review board that will determine that the patient has a debilitating medical condition and could benefit from use of the drug.
  • The bill creates a licensing authority in the department of revenue and gives local governments the authority to tax medical marijuana at a rate higher than the existing local tax rate.
  • Dispensary owners must receive identification to distribute medical marijuana, and undergo a criminal history background check.
  • Licenses will be issued for medical marijuana clinics and growers.
  • Fees will be determined on a local level.
  • Police officers and their families cannot own a dispensary, nor can anyone convicted of a felony in the past 10 years.
  • Growers must meet applicable state and local zoning laws.
  • Clinics and growers cannot operate within 500 feet of the perimeter of a public or private school or day care center.
  • Growers cannot be located closer than 20 miles to a state border.
  • Local governments are responsible for limiting the number clinics or growers.
  • A clinic cannot treat more than 1,500 patients art any one given time.
  • No person, partnership or corporation can hold interest in more than three clinics.
  • Bona fide physician patient relationship means: a treatment or counseling relationship in which the doctor has completed a full assessment of both past and current medical conditions. Doctors must provide follow up care.